Summer festival planned for West Side

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An Austin group wants to bring a five-day celebration of Juneteenth Independence Day t0 Chicago’s Garfield Park.

The music and arts festival will kick off with a parade that starts in Austin and ends at the park, where the festivities will be held.

The group, known as JAAIDF for Juneteenth the African American Independence Day Festival, had its fourth meeting Dec. 18 at Garfield Park’s fieldhouse to seek out board members and discuss ways to secure funding for the ambitious event. Its next meeting is tomorrow (see details below).

Already the group has reserved Garfield Park for the festival, which is scheduled to run from June 16 – 22. An area the size of about six city blocks will be fenced off by the park district and will contain music stages, carnival rides, a picnic area and vendor booths. The organizers of the event plan on filling most of the festival with performers and artists from the Chicago area.

The founders of JAAIDF, Austin native Rickie Brown and Ron Smith, put on similar but smaller-scale events for Juneteenth in the past (the last one was held in 2006), until a lack of money and support forced them to stop.

“We couldn’t get the sponsorship that we wanted from various political figures and the businesses at the time, and basically that was because of starting late,”  Brown said. “So this time, we decided if we start in the winter, by at least April everything should be in order.”

While Brown and Smith said they’ve had trouble getting commitments from political leaders, some aldermanic candidates support the Juneteenth festival. Two representatives of 24th Ward aldermanic candidate Vetress Boyce attended the most recent meeting, as did Carol Johnson, a 28th Ward candidate who was removed from the ballot Tuesday.

Anita Hayes, 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham’s chief of staff, said the alderman supports JAAIDF’s efforts.

“We have not finished our event scheduling yet, but I don’t foresee there being any conflict,” Hayes said, adding that Brown has been in contact with the 29th Ward office. Hayes also said that based on the past Juneteenth events thrown by Brown and Smith, the planned festival  “could only be a positive thing for black awareness.”

In a statement this week, 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts also pledged her support to the Juneteenth celebration.

“The Juneteenth African-American Independence Day Festival, coordinated by Rickie Brown, is an example of local community residents who are trying to bring a sense of cultural awareness and positive energy to the community,” Mitts wrote.

Brown and Smith’s group also plans on asking U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis for his support. Ira Cohen, a spokesman for Davis, said he did not know of any conversations with JAAIDF but the congressman believes strongly in the importance of Juneteenth Independence Day.

“He’s been the sponsor of the resolution [to make Juneteenth a national holiday] each year for several years,” Cohen said.

Juneteenth is a holiday in 36 states, including Illinois, that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. That announcement marked the first time the Union’s presence was strong enough throughout the Southern states to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

Brown said he sees bringing a Juneteenth celebration to Chicago’s West Side as an opportunity to instill in the African-American community a greater sense of identity, something he thinks is particularly important to young people.

“When you give young people a sense of identity, a sense of pride, they tend to do better,” Brown said. “That’s what is missing from a lot of our young people; they don’t have that sense of community.”

Among JAAIDF’s growing coalition is Delores A. Stokes of Murphy Hill Gallery, 3333 W. Arthington Ave., who sees the event as a chance to showcase the art work of the African-American community, and Ernestine King, the president of the Greater Garfield Chamber of Commerce, who’s  promised the chamber’s support because the celebration is a “positive cultural event” that will also stimulate economic development and promote local vendors.

JAAIDF describes the kick-off event as being “like no parade has ever been,” because it will begin simultaneously in Lawndale and Austin and end together in a Libation ceremony in Garfield Park. The parade will be led by a family with relatives living in both communities.

“We got that idea because slavery separated families,” Brown said. “[The parade] will symbolize the re-unification of family.”

Brown said the reason Austin is a focal point of the parade is because it has the greatest number of African-Americans in Chicago.

“We really want to make this as big as that festival on the South Side,” Brown said. “We want to bring that consciousness to the West Side.”

The meeting closed with Brown thanking the attendees for their support and feedback, and pleading for more support from the community.

“We’ve done this before, and we know that we need more people to help us.”

“We’ve got six months,” Smith added.  “It’s going to go really quick.”

The group’s next meeting is at 1 p.m. Jan. 8 in Garfield Park’s fieldhouse and will focus on finding sponsors for the event.

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