First Juneteenth Freedom Fest kicks off in downtown Cleveland this weekend


CLEVELAND (WJW) — In 2020, Karamu House, recognized as the oldest African American performing arts institute in the country, launched a new social justice series that began with “Freedom on Juneteenth.

“It’s important to commemorate the freeing of all enslaved black folks in this country,” said Tony Sias, President and CEO of Karamu.

The last group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free on June 19 two months after the end of the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed more than two years prior.

Last year’s performance was virtual due to COVID-19, but a year later Karamu is ready to connect in person for the inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Fest in downtown Cleveland.

“We feed off of each other, so to feel that energy is going to be great. My castmates and I are very excited about that,” said actor Christina Johnson.

Karamu House was originally planning to have a Juneteenth celebration at its own facility until they were approached with a new opportunity.

“Downtown Cleveland Alliance came to us and said they had this great idea,” said Sias. “What an incredible opportunity to go downtown to be on Mall C and to celebrate.”

On Saturday, from noon to 10 p.m., people will be able to enjoy food trucks, local vendors and family-friendly games and activities.

“We want people to celebrate the holiday, be educated about what Juneteenth is and to activate the community in terms of investing in the black experience in this city,” said Sias.

At 6 p.m. Karamu will perform a concert titled “Songs of Liberation,” featuring original songs and covers. There will also be performances from Grammy Award-winning artists and other special guests. A firework show will follow.

“There are a lot of things going on in our country that we’re trying to fix and repair. So I think conversation is always good to be able to connect with each other, to share,” said Johnson.

Karamu along with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and Ingenuity Cleveland are hoping to set a standard. “Make a mark not only for Cleveland but for the country in terms of how to celebrate Juneteenth.”

To learn more about the free event click here.

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