Activists, nonprofits, black businesses, politicians, dancers, musicians and poets unite to celebrate Juneteenth

Jack Austin, Reporter

Local politicians, community activists, poets, dancers and musicians joined together Friday to celebrate Juneteenth. The virtual event was streamed by over 3,000 people. 

Kemone Hendricks planned the event in an effort to raise awareness and celebrate the holiday. 

“I planned the whole thing. It went amazing, it went exactly how I thought it would go,” Hendricks said. “Everyone received the message I was trying to relay through the virtual celebration. And I’m just so happy that everyone enjoyed it, everyone tuned in.”

S.O.U.L. Creations, a nonprofit that blends academic, social and cultural elements to lead African American youth in a process of self discovery, kicked off the event with a song from Guinea, “Kassa,” under the leadership of Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan. “Kassa” is used around harvest time for strength.

Much of the stream was dedicated to honoring the memory of the late Hecky Powell, who recently passed from COVID-19. Powell was a pillar to the community and a mentor to young kids, many of whom he gave their first job. 

Resident Henry Wilkins said he often looked to Powell for advice. Particularly, Wilkins thanked Powell’s for his advice as they pursued opening a STEM centric community school and said he hopes they find a way to honor Powell.

“Hecky Powell, you are going to be missed. You were a lot more than just a restaurant owner who served great ribs in Evanston,” Henry Wilkins said. “You were a titan in this community.” 

Mayor Steve Hagerty wished everyone a happy Juneteenth over the livestream and said Powell was present in spirit. 

“This is a holiday significant not only for African Americans, but all Americans,” Hagerty said. “In celebration of the end of one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history, Juneteenth gives us the opportunity to celebrate the strength and diversity of our community.”

Celebrating Juneteenth is as important as ever, Hagerty said.

At a June 8 City Council meeting, Hagerty declared June 2020 Juneteenth month through a proclamation.

Hagerty was proud of the proclamation and said there is still an ongoing struggle for African Americans to gain full equality.

Opal Lee, a 93-year-old activist and retired educator from Fort Worth, Texas, has been advocating Juneteenth be recognized as a national holiday for years. 

“People need to know,” said Lee, who attended Evanston’s Juneteenth celebration. 

Lee has marched in Washington D.C. in her efforts to get a national Juneteenth holiday. In an interview with The New York Times, Lee compared Juneteenth to Christmas or Thanksgiving, saying her family had “such a good time.”

The livestream celebrated the historic day with musicians and poets. Three girls danced to an emotional performance of “Wade in the Water,” a spiritual. Vanity Robinson also read “Black Love,” a poem about Juneteenth. 

“Juneteenth is a day forever to be remembered, a symbol of what we lost and gained,” Robinson read. “Today we are the proof of black excellence. The embodiment of pride. Kings and queens.”

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Welch (D-Ill.) (Communication ’93) said he was happy the pandemic did not stop the community from celebrating. Welch also said Juneteenth needs to be recognized as a national holiday.  

“We are tired of unarmed black people being killed in this country and not being held accountable. It is time that we get what we are due. We will use that national holiday to promote our causes,” Welch said.

Welch encouraged institutional racism and police brutality to be broken down in an effort to see policy benefiting black people. 

Charles Jefferson, communications manager for the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, said in light of recent events, white supremacy “is on full display and it’s on the hot seat.” Jefferson livestreamed the celebration and attended a pop-up book sale at C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor on June 19. 

“Juneteenth means freedom to me. It means being able to tap into who I am as a black man in America,” Jefferson said. “And get in tune with my ancestors and those who came before me, to celebrate my heritage. I’m proud to be black, proud to be celebrating my heritage and celebrating with like-minded people.” 

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Twitter: @JackAustin10

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