2022 Juneteenth Family Festival. Photo by Dale Fast

What better place to celebrate Juneteenth—a quintessentially American, and now federally designated holiday marking the end of slavery—than in one of the oldest Black communities in Chicago? This past June, local organizers hosted the third annual Juneteenth Family Festival in the heart of Morgan Park, complete with African dance workshops, djembe lessons, kids’ activities, storytelling, and lively music performances. 

I spent an hour volunteering that morning, setting up a badminton net in the kids’ area while soundchecks boomed from the stage. Local Black-owned business vendors lined the sidewalk alongside several community resource booths and food trucks. The festival crosses from Bohn Park over to the Morgan Park Presbyterian and Morgan Park United Methodist church lots, making for a truly collaborative and community-centered event. 

That the gathering spans from the east to the west side of Longwood Drive carries a lot of “symbolism and significance,” according to lead organizer Shanya Gray, because the street “has been traditionally a dividing line: Black on one side and white on the other side.” Celebrating the Juneteenth holiday, especially in a neighborhood known for its St. Patrick’s Day parade, fills a need to center and celebrate the Black experience for Black people. But one of the organizers’ key goals is to educate everyone within the community about Black history in the United States, including emancipation from slavery, since as Gray asserts, the “American education system has not always done justice when it comes to these historical matters.” Gray believes Juneteenth festivals should be a “combination of looking back and looking forward…celebrating emancipation but also celebrating African American culture.” 

I returned to the festival several hours later to find the badminton net destroyed—a sign the kids had a blast, I’m sure, and not that I fumbled the setup. Organizers have managed to keep the event free since garnering significant sponsorship. Families will enjoy bringing a picnic to the park or visiting a food truck.

The Juneteenth Family Festival takes place on or around June 19 each year. Visitjuneteenthfamilyfestival.com or email juneteenthff@gmail.com for more information.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *