Cleveland celebrates Juneteenth with song, art, and reflection

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — It was a day of celebration. “Black is beautiful and it comes in so many different shades, arrays, styles,” said Keenan Williams, owner of nyceCO Prints, a screen printing company. It was also a day of reflection. 

Rain and shine, Cleveland’s inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Fest on Mall C downtown was well attended and organizers say, a success.

“It’s about celebrating freedom and community and coming together as one,” said Tony Sias, President and CEO of Karamu House, one of the hosts along with Ingenuity Cleveland, Downtown Cleveland Alliance and MetroHealth.

156 years later, Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. “A lot of Black people have celebrated Juneteenth for a very long time but I think going mainstream with it, it becoming a federal holiday is very important because more cultures will be able to experience what it’s like to be an African American or celebrate like an African American,” said Williams. 

Juneteenth commemorated the day Union troops came into Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved Black people that they were free more than two months after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed.

“I tell them that all the time. There are people that gave their lives for you to have the opportunities you guys have. So I want them to take away that this is our history, people died for this,” said attendee Lisa Baker who was with her two sons.

Karamu, the oldest producing African American theater in the nation, performed a concert entitled “Songs of Liberation.”

“Art is a reflection of culture and we use art as a vehicle towards social change and understanding,” said Sias. 

Grammy Award winning artists and other special guests took the stage to inspire attendees. 

“Watching you know, African people perform and doing their dances, that was the cool part,” said Preston Baker.

Performance artists were joined by visual artists creating vivid murals and a public art project gave people space to write their ideas around freedom and being heard.

And more than 20 Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs were featured in the Vendor Village.

“It’s good to know what the people that look like you are doing in your city,” said Williams.

Most significantly the organizers hope this freedom fest inspired the community to be educated and activated.

“It’s an opportunity to you know confront the past, look at the issues we’re facing here in the present but I think also to really put on full display the kind of city that we’re building. The kind of city that we want to be,” said Michael Deemer, Interim President & CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.

“It’s looking at voting rights, looking at systemic racism and eradication of that. How do we look at health disparities? So as a community this is springboard into beginning to really address those issues,” said Sias.

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