Artist Keith David Conner talking about his work at the Juneteenth celebration. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)
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Artists capture spirit of liberation in displays at HF Juneteenth fest

Thousands of community members gathered outside of Homewood-Flossmoor High School for its third annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 16. The event had 170 vendors and exhibitors, including many Black artists and Black-owned businesses. The artwork featured everything from portraits of people to pop culture-related artwork to pieces with themes of racial justice.

Artist Keith David Conner talking about his work at the Juneteenth celebration. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)
Artist Keith David Conner talking about his work at the Juneteenth celebration. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)

Attendees were treated to live musical performances and acrobatics. The Juneteenth celebration had food trucks, carnival rides, games and an area where attendees rode exercise bikes to music. Other vendors included Governors State University, Prairie State College, the South Suburban Chapter of the NAACP and the drug treatment facility South Suburban Council.

Say Their Names memorial was constructed for the event. It had white flower petals and dozens of black-and-white photos of Black Americans who’d been killed by the police. Attendees slowly walked by the memorial, solemnly staring at it, and taking pictures.

Artist Lea Jackson surrounded by her paintings with pop culture themes at the HF Juneteenth Festival. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)
Artist Lea Jackson surrounded by her paintings with pop culture themes at the HF Juneteenth Festival. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)

Keith David Conner, a fine arts and acrylic painter, had a table that included a 30-inch by 40-inch piece titled “From the Mountain Top.” It depicted Martin Luther King Jr. looking down with an angry, sad and inquisitive expression and a river of blood below him. Connor said he made the painting for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. He said the idea was King looking at society today with disappointment.

“There’s definitely been progress made but then also progress lost. Right now is a very tenuous time in America with all the political divide. Truly, people don’t want people to learn the history of America,” Connor said. “The ideal of America is built on equality for everyone – even though the people who said that said this when it wasn’t equal.”

In addition to a handful of paintings, Connor was also selling gray T-shirts that said, “Happy Juneteenth.” The T-shirts had a drawing of the United States with colors of green, black and red.

“Red, black and green are African American liberation colors. And basically, Juneteenth is about African Americans,” Conner said. “They didn’t find out that they were free until months later. And so, it’s a celebration of all of African Americans realizing they were no longer in servitude.”

Lia Jackson, an H-F graduate, had a table full of pop culture-related paintings. Like at the Park Forest Art Fair in 2022, she was selling prints of her paintings featuring iconic horror movie monsters, a mashup of “Mean Girls” and “The Proud Family” and Batman surrounded by the hands of his various villains. 

New to her display table was a painting of a keyboard with iconic album covers, such as “Ready to Die” by Biggie, and two pieces featuring athletes from different generations. The baseball-related painting included Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Mookie Betts and the football-related painting included Marlin Brisco, Doug Williams and Colin Kaepernick.

“Last year I drove by (the Juneteenth festival) and saw all these cars. … Why didn’t I know about it?’ Word of mouth helped me become a vendor this year,” Jackson said, adding that she’s been receiving many smiles and laughs from attendees who have looked at her work.

Jackson said the Juneteenth holiday symbolizes freedom.

“It takes a lot of education because it’s a newer holiday for some. But I’d love for there to be more events in the community like this so everybody can learn more,” Jackson said.

Samantha Rose was selling hand-painted, one-of-a-kind hats and original acrylic paintings on canvas. Her paintings include portraits of Chicagoans, landmarks in Chicago, her childhood memories and images from Black culture.

This was Rose’s first year as a vendor at the event. She said she made Juneteenth hats just for the event. Her table also included a hat that said, “Excuse the Chicago in me” and numerous different hat and T-shirt designs with the slogan “Support Your Homies.”

“‘Support Your Homies’ came about with just supporting your friends and people you may know – whether it be business, whether it be mental health, whether it be friendship, whether it be emotional support. Just anything you can do to help your people who are around you that you love,” Rose said.

Rose said she believes Juneteenth hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves “but it’s definitely gotten more popular, especially in Chicago, in the last few years.”

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