It would’ve taken more than a few raindrops to dampen one of the Fox Valley’s great celebrations of community, unity, diversity and freedom.
Families gathered at Appleton’s City Park on Sunday for the Ninth Annual Junteenth Festival, presented by African Heritage, Inc. Though Mother Nature brought the need for some umbrellas and occasional stage mopping, it was little more than a slight inconvenience.
“During the storm, we still bring the sunshine,” said master of ceremonies Keith Brown, or Mr. I’m Possible. “The sunshine is the people and the people came out.”
The celebration of black heritage featured music from AnibaHotep and dance from the Creation Chicago Footwork Crew. Taylor Thomas inspired thought with spoken word performance.
A marketplace featured both vendors and an opportunity for festival-goers to connect with Fox Valley nonprofits.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865. It was on that day that slaves in Galveston, Texas, had finally learned from the Union army that they were free nearly two-and-a-half years after the abolition of slavery.
The festival included the travelling exhibit, “A Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in the Fox Cities.” The educational display, created by The History Museum at the Castle in partnership with African Heritage, Inc, explores Appleton’s early black residents — such as Emma Hollensworth, who served as matron of Appleton’s Children’s Home in the 1890s. It shed light on a regrettable time of sundown customs and Ku Klux Klan recruitment.
It highlights an emergence that continues.
Mayor Tim Hanna saw Appleton’s progress and continued, upward trajectory in the diversity of those gathered together at City Park on Sunday. Our community has certainly grown more diverse, but what’s more worthy of celebration is how those of different cultures, ethnicities and experiences support each other in Appleton.
“That’s where we see we’re getting somewhere,” he said.
Brown on Sunday brought a voice of empowerment while guiding events, encouraging those gathered to say, “I am enough” and to tell those beside them, “you are beautiful just the way you are.”
The Atlanta speaker has been an annual fixture of Appleton’s Juneteenth celebration and had nothing but praise for African Heritage in their efforts to strengthen community in the Fox Valley.
Appleton’s Juneteenth had all the right elements.
“It’s great food, great fun, great fellowship — and it’s all for freedom,” Brown said.