Saturday kicked off Buffalo’s 41st annual Juneteenth Festival, an event devoted to celebrating African Americans’ liberation from slavery.
Festival spokesperson Jerome Williams described this year’s event as the largest Juneteenth in the nation.
With 150 concessions, a parade with 1,500 marchers and thousands of attendees across 56 acres of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park, it’s no surprise that Buffalo’s Juneteenth trumped all others.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom and hope for tomorrow and potential, and everyone can get on board with that,” Williams said.
With so many people and activities, there was a lot to see and do. Here’s what you may have missed.
This year’s parade featured 80 units and more than 1,500 marchers. The parade’s theme was the Harlem Renaissance. The parade featured elected officials; dance, cheer and drill teams; local business and community groups; and multicultural sororities and fraternities.
Pointing to the parade’s lively music and vivid colors, Rhonda Turnber, the Juneteenth’s parade chairwoman, said she was pleased with how the event went.
“It was perfect,” she said.
Vendors lined walkways throughout the park, selling delicacies including “taco-in-a-bag,” hot dogs and ice cream. Among the vendors was chef Dave Holt frying Cajun-style fish at the Holt’s Cooking Co. stand.
Holt’s stand has been a staple at Juneteenth for nearly 15 years. He doesn’t hesitate to wave or smile at the people approaching his tent and, by now, knows many of them.
Asked what his favorite aspect of Juneteenth is, Holt will tell you it’s the people, of course.
“It is a community event,” Holt said. “From East Side to West Side, from north to south, they all come out.”
Bright cultural attire, scented body oils, jewelry and bongos of varying sizes were all for sale. Among the vendors was Callie Lockwood, who offered potted plants for free.
Lockwood and her sister are part of the organization GM-No, which works to provide people living in neighborhoods considered “food deserts” with organic, non-GMO options.
On Saturday, the organization was selling fresh vegetables, including broccoli, squash, tomatoes and peppers.
“We’re trying to empower people to grow their own foods,” Lockwood said.
Fun for kids
This year, the festival’s program committee wanted more children’s activities, Williams said.
There was a girls and boys basketball showcase, a children’s activity tent, book sharing and a chalk walk.
Children also enjoyed running through the splash pad to cool off.
Sporting a slightly oversized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hat, Jaxon Felder, 3, loved running through the water sprays.
“I liked to go under the water,” Jaxon said with a shy smile.
Juneteenth was designed to inform African Americans about their culture, and the Heritage Tent was there to do just that.
“If you don’t have history, your past is like a tree but no roots. It cannot stand,” said Modell Gault, regional president of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations.
Juneteenth continues from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.