Juneteenth Family Festival #4  

 

It was during a simple drive through our community in early 2019 that the seeds of the first Juneteenth Family Festival began to germinate. Neighborhood resident and co-founder of the Moms of Beverly Facebook group Shanya Gray began reflecting on the need to celebrate the diversity among our Beverly/Morgan Park neighbors. It struck her that even though February is Black History Month, there wasn’t much evidence of Black history being celebrated. She began to envision an event to celebrate and educate about Juneteenth.  

At about the same time, Jurema Gorham, founder of the Burst into Books literacy organization serving South Side children, reached out to Gray about forming a partnership between her organization and the Moms of Beverly Facebook group.  

The ideas, vision and creativity of these two women merged into the first Juneteenth Family Festival. Celebrated in 2019 with a small crowd of people coming together in the Day Ryan Woods, the event underscored the importance of celebrating Juneteeth, the official end of slavery in America.
A new community tradition was born. Last year, more than 2,000 were part of the celebration, and this year the festival expects to welcome even more participants and more to offer the community.  

Always celebrated on the Saturday before Juneteenth – June 19 – the 4th annual Juneteenth Family festival will be held Sat., June 17, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Longwood Drive will be closed from 111th to 110th Streets, and the free festival will sprawl between Bohn Park, Morgan Park Presbyterian, and Morgan Park United Methodist Churches.  

‘It’s fascinating how it’s organically grown . . . as people see what we’ve been able to do,” Gray said. From an event with no budget, few participants, and a pandemic-enforces hiatus, the local Juneteenth Family Festival serves people community- and city-wide. “It’s a testament to what you can accomplish.”  

Festival founders Gray and Gorham now have a team of talented  — primarily local – Black women planning and presenting the event. That team includes psychologist and Marine Corps veteran Da Lina Bailey; finance, business, and strategy management specialist Kiana Keys; internal medicine physician Dr. Audrey L. Tanksley; pediatrician Dr. Markeita Moore; CPS school social worker Kristal Williams; primary teacher Angela Franklin; owner of Recovery on Wheels Outreach Center Renee Murphy; and professional engineer Tiana Morgan.  

Geared to families of all ages, this year’s festival will feature entertainment, activities, wellness opportunities, food, workshops, shopping, and lots more. 

Here’s a sample of what you will find at the Juneteenth Family Festival:  

Entertainment 

Headlining the entertainment lineup will be celebrated R&B, House, Old School, Jazz and Blues vocalist Simone Green. Green’s musical career began when she was a vocalist with the band Shade of Blue while a student at the University Iowa, opening for top performers such as the late “Queen of Blues” Raheem DeVaughn, Koko Taylor and Jazz legend Joe Lovano.  In 1997, Green relocated to Chicago and formed the popular band, Soul
Sanctuary, performing to sell-out crowds throughout the state. In 2022, she released her solo EP, “East of Ordinary” and her songs have been used on the wildly popular dance video game “Dance Dance Revolution.” 

The Chicago Bucket Boys puts percussive skill on display across the country and has performed regularly at the Chicago Bulls home games. You may recognize them from a spot with Hank Williams Jr. on his “Are You Ready For Some Football?” for ABC’s Monday Night Football. 

The 40+ Double Dutch Club – a group of women over age 40 — empowers women in mental health and physical fitness while inspiring friendship, fitness, fun, and fellowship by jumping Double Dutch, hula hooping, playing hopscotch, and Chinese rope. 

MOYA educates through electrifying drum and dance, integrating learning while bringing Africa to audiences through creative songs, dance, storytelling, and audience participation. MOYA is a West African term from the Mandingo Ancestry, meaning “Family.” The entourage consists of percussionists, performing artists, masked dancers, stilts walkers, fire eaters, and more.  

Health Highlights 

Festival attendees will have access to health education, vaccinations, dental exams, mental health resources, health screenings, health and fitness workshops, and more. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is working with Home Access Health Corporation to provide in-home test kits for people needing colorectal cancer screening. The BCBSIL Blue Door Neighborhood Center will give gift cards with in-home Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kits to those interested in being tested.  

Great Lakes Clinical Trials, a research site in Andersonville offering trials in various therapeutic areas including Alzheimer’s disease, will have information about memory, brain, and general health.  

The Advocate Community Special Events Team and Advocate LiveWell Mobile Van will provide health screenings, interactive games, and giveaways. 

PATH2Purpose will provide resources to help teens learn strategies to cope with negative thoughts, manage conflicts with friends and family, and plan for major life changes.  

Dr. Obari Cartman will present a solution-based workshop on Black Men’s Mental Health & Hip-Hop, offering an honest conversation about the mental health challenges and opportunities to better understand the identity, motivation, and emotional world of Black men.  

Festival Highlights 

STEM Lab, Djembe Drumming lessons, basketball, volleyball, footworking, stepping and other fun outdoor activities will keep kids of all ages entertained and healthy. 

Arrive at the festival hungry! Harold’s Food Truck, Rojo Verde Mexican Food, FSQ BBQ and other eateries will be serving family favorites.  

Vendors will be selling Afrocentric clothing, art, hand-made gifts, toys, jewelry, accessories, and more. 

Juneteenth History 

The Juneteenth Family Festival website offers excellent information about the holiday. The following is taken from that site: Juneteenth (short for June 19th) marks the end of slavery in the United States and is celebrated each year across the country. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved Black Americans of the Confederate States. However, it took a long time for word to travel across the country and slavery continued in many places. As states received the word, the residing slaves were freed.  

Texas was the last state to receive word when on June 19, 1865 – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had declared slavery nationally illegal — troops marched into Galveston and announced that slaves were free. 

Celebrations broke out and the day affectionately became known as Juneteenth. Juneteenth is growing in popularity across the country as a sacred day that recognizes the triumph over contradictions between slavery and democracy. Observers soberly embrace the reverence and appreciation for the liberation of slaves while celebrating Black culture. As America celebrates independence on July 4, Juneteenth is also an Independence Day that many Black Americans feel a special connection to as symbolic and meaningful in a different way, given that perhaps “everyone is not free unless we are all free.” 

Learn more about opportunities to volunteer, sponsor, donate, and become a vendor at juneteenthfamilyfestival.com 

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