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HF Juneteenth Fest celebrates African American culture, power

Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson, in her greeting to open the fourth annual HF Juneteenth Festival on Saturday, June 20, called the event “one of the biggest and definitely the best Juneteenth celebrations in all of Chicagoland.”

The event certainly drew attendees from the region. Sandi Ward of South Bend, Indiana, said the holiday is an important moment.

“Everyone should be celebrating Juneteenth; as a country, it brings unity and support,” Ward added, “There’s something to be said when you see all these little boys and girls involved, helping, volunteering, enjoying learning and experimenting.”

The festival provided features from years past, including rides and activities for kids, a gallery of work by Black artists, the “Say Their Names” memorial exhibit, an expanded food court and hundreds of vendors, mostly Black-owned businesses.

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There were new features, too, including a wine and beer garden, a communal mural and ample parking with shuttles to help people get to and from the parking lots at nearby churches, All Nations Community and Woodlands Community.

Curator Destiny Watson, founder and CEO of You Matter 2, the youth leadership organization that operates the festival, said her favorite part of this year’s event was the entertainment with its variety of forms and styles.

In addition to regulars, like the Jesse White Tumblers and the 40+ Double Dutch Club, there were several step and dance groups, including GenXsis Step Team, the Fieldcrest School of Performing Arts and Creation Global and the Queens of Excellence.

The music ranged from jazz to rap, R&B to soul, with an opera/musical theater performance by Adia Evans of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

There were opportunities for attendees to have interactive experiences, too.
In addition to a communal mural, a popular stop was the “Cultural Corner” which offered lessons on the history of African head-wrapping and even gave people a chance to try it out themselves.

Another interactive experience was a drum circle led by Eric-Olu Johnson of OSA Productions. There, attendees could learn about the history and significance of African drumming and even try their hand at playing the instruments with professional drummers.

“This is what it’s about: enriching ourselves in our culture, roots and history, preserving it and generationally thriving stronger,” Johnson said.

Cicadas were a presence, too, though not a welcome one to some attendees and entertainers.

The master of ceremonies, Binkey, noted as the bugs swooped around the stage, “These cicadas are getting aggressive. I don’t have this problem in the city.”

And singer Left Jones said, “We’re turning into cicada samurai here” as he fended off cicadas during his performance.

In spite of the new features, HF Juneteenth attendance was down some this year, according to Watson, possibly because the festival charged an admission fee for the first time. The prices were $5 for kids and $10 for adults.

“I think people don’t really understand fully what goes into putting on an event like this. It’s hard to do this every year as a small organization,” Watson said. “It isn’t village sponsored. We have to pull the money from somewhere.”

The team that makes HF Juneteenth Fest happen are all volunteers, she said, and they work nearly year-round to plan the event.

“We do this because we love it. We have to be able to continue it some way if that’s what the community wants to see,” she said. “We don’t really have any other type of celebration like this for Black people in the South Suburbs. To be able to come together, all these Black owned businesses, all these entertainment and food trucks, we don’t really get this out here anywhere else. It’s important to have.”

Note: Portions of this story originally were published in “Half Week: June 21” column. Nuha Abdessalam contributed to this story.

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