GREEN BAY – Walking into Joannes or Whitney parks on Saturday, attendees of Green Bay’s Juneteenth celebrations were met with the sounds of music, smells of food, and sights of a community coming together to celebrate Black culture and freedom.
The event at Joanne’s Park was the third Juneteenth celebration organized by We All Rise: African American Resource Center and Black Lives United – Green Bay. The first took place at Perkins Park in 2020, and the second at Murphy Park in 2021.
We All Rise executive director Robin Scott said the celebration was the result of hard work of around 30 community members in addition to the organization’s staff and Black Lives United volunteers.
“It just feels really good to look over at the crowd, and see the community get to celebrate the freedom of Black folks, even though we know we’re still fighting for the freedoms today,” Scott said.
“There’s so much yet that we still have to accomplish and fight for, but it’s a community effort, it’s a societal effort, it’s a global effort. So as we recognize that anti-Blackness is real, this is what it looks like to undo that.”
RELATED:‘I will never forget the sacrifices of my ancestors’: Black organizations put Juneteenth front and center across Wisconsin
RELATED:Northeast Wisconsin’s growing racial, ethnic diversity explored through series ‘Home is Here’
Juneteenth marks the anniversary of when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to free the last enslaved people on June 19, 1865, over two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It has been celebrated annually.
Juneteenth became a legal holiday in Wisconsin in 2009, and in June 2020 Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich issued a proclamation recognizing the holiday in the city. A year later, Juneteenth became a federal holiday in the United States.
Over 10 food trucks and vendors lined up around the park, including Pam’s Ribs and Thangs offering ribs and beef brisket with their famous BBQ sauce and Jamaica Mi Krazy cooking up jerk chicken.
Over 40 community vendors, the majority of which were Black-owned businesses and organizations, also set up shop throughout the park. Diane Williamson of Chakra Shack was selling bath and body products and jewelry, Latosha Greenleaf of Urban Cultural Arts provided canvases and painting supplies for people to create some art, and Janika Mbagwu of Kamsi Beauty was promoting healthy skin with her handmade, organic lip and body products.
RELATED:What to know about Juneteenth: Holiday marking Emancipation Proclamation takes on extra importance in 2020
Another vendor, and event sponsor, was Malik Lynch, the owner of Fresh Prints of Green Bay. Fresh Prints does screen printing, embroidery, and promotional items.
“I’m in my joy, it feels great,” Lynch said of being out for the Juneteenth celebration. “Juneteenth means that you get to come out and celebrate, educate, and honor our culture, our ancestors.”
I have emphasized the importance of educating people on Juneteenth and its history, since many still don’t know about it.
In addition to the food and community vendors, the day was filled with a community meal, bouncy houses, face and mural painting, a basketball tournament, hula hoop and double dutch contests, and live musical performances throughout the day.
At 1 pm, Scott was joined on stage by Carl Woitekaitis from the Governor’s Office, who presented Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ Juneteenth Proclamation. She was also joined by Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich.
“Freedom has been and always will be a constant struggle, and it was something that enslaved people were struggling towards for hundreds of years,” Genrich said to the crowd.
“As Carl said, we’ve made tremendous strides over the years, but those inequalities continue to exist. And it’s incumbent upon all of us to continue to struggle together, to join together, and to achieve freedom for all people, because that’s what America is at its best.”
From Joannes to Whitney park
A few blocks away at Whitney Park, another Juneteenth celebration was taking place: the 2nd annual Juneteenth parade and celebration hosted by African American Community Parent Network.
The parade started at 10 am with floats, a marching band, cars and dancers. Activities at Whitney Park followed from 11 am to 5 pm Vendors like Boss Dogs Food Truck and Doll’s Paparazzi were at the park, and the Festival Foods Big Cart made the rounds as kids squealed gleefully riding inside it.
Around 10 players from the Green Bay Blizzard made an appearance, as special teams coach Tae Brooks said it was important for them to get out into the community and embrace their heritage.
Sharon Harper, AACPN’s executive director, is the woman who brought the parade and Whitney Park celebration together with the help of her daughter, Chanel, and son Dietrich. She is also the executive director of the Bring Your Own Five basketball program that brings Black youth and police officers together.
“I’m doing this to be the change that I want to see in the world. Even though Juneteenth is a representation of Black people’s freedom, I wanted it to have everybody, Black and white, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican,” Harper said.
“I always say, unity in the community.”
Contact Kelly Smits at (920) 431-3632 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kellymsmits.