South Holland neighborhood group hosts Juneteenth event for hundreds

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By Reena Alsakaji

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (June 22, 2022) – The sounds of both music and chatter filled the air at the campus of Unity Christian Academy on Saturday, June 18. Posters were scattered across the grass, asking questions such as “How can I make a difference?” and “What does it mean for all to be free?” The phrase “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly” was found across the black T-shirts of several Micah 6:8 members as they hosted their first celebratory Juneteenth event.

In commemoration of Juneteenth, a small group of South Holland residents that comprise the Micah 6:8 group hosted a multi-hour event this year, departing from the unity walks that were held in recent years. Their celebration of Juneteenth included educating attendees on Black history, hosting several small, Black-owned businesses, and simply asking people for their opinions. Posters at the event tagged with questions such as, “Where is justice needed in your neighborhood?” were meant to spark thoughtful answers. What caught several attendees’ gaze was the vision board present at the event, where attendees were free to write how they wanted to see change, with their messages ranging from “stop hatred” to “passing laws that really make a difference and changing mindsets.”

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Several children and adults who attended the event wrote messages on the vision board, outlining their hopes for the future. (Photo: Reena Alsakaji)

Education and celebration

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Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White attended the Saturday event, and introduced the Jesse White Tumblers. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Choosing what information to place was a daunting task that took several meetings, but according to Sally Blom, member of the Micah 6:8 group and one of the event’s organizers, there was a collective goal to have attendees learn at least one new fact.

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“We wanted to find information not well known,” Blom said. “When we talk about Black History, what comes to mind is slavery. We want people to know that it started before slavery. I hope people come and learn at least one thing.”

But the emphasis on education came with celebration, the core of the event. The crowd gathered to watch in awe of the Jesse White Tumblers as they performed. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was also present with the Tumblers, and spoke briefly about the importance of Juneteenth before the routine began.

Members of the Jesse White Tumblers performing in front of the event’s attendees. The crowd watched in amazement as the gymnasts were able to pull off multiple stunts. (Photo: Reena Alsakaji)

Additionally, some praise dancers performed at the event, reciting a piece in the name of justice and God.

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Praise dancers performed at the event, featuring both a performative and vocal piece outlining freedom and relation to God. (Photo: Reena Alsakaji)

Special guests

Whether it was selling jewelry, food or paintings, participants had the opportunity to explore various aspects of culture. Businesses from the Black Farmers Market were present, and one such woman, Keila Strong, showed several portraits outlining parts of Black American history. Strong also created a live painting at the event as her commemoration of Juneteenth.

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Keila Strong displays one of several paintings regarding Black History, often taking her own spin on historical and biblical scenes. (Photo: Reena Alsakaji)

“At the core of who I am and why I create is my faith and my desire and passion for justice. So when I talked to Lisa [Meeks, Micah 6:8 member] about this event, it all lined up with who I am and what my work represents,” Strong said to the crowd. “My core principles on righteousness, on justice, on hopes, on overcoming, victory, liberty. Today I’m actually going to do a painting. I want it to be a painting of celebration. I know I do a lot of overcoming fighting, war, addressing oppression, and trauma in the Black community, but today is a day of celebration.”

Useni Eugene Perkins, author of Hey Black Child, was present at the event and provided information to the crowd giving background on the Emancipation Proclamation and slavery. He also suggested books and resources such as Destruction of the African Civilization by Chancellor Williams.

“You cannot really celebrate Juneteenth until you understand the Emancipation Proclamation,” he said to the crowd. “What did it do and who did it free.”

Poet and playwright Useni Eugene Perkins spoke to the crowd about the history of slavery in America. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Reflecting on success, looking to the future

Following months of working on the event, Lisa Meeks, member of the Micah 6:8 group and one of the event’s organizers, considers the day a successful celebration. She and the other organizers estimated at least 250 people attended throughout the four-hour event.

Members of Christ Community Church of South Holland gathered to attend the event. (Photo: Reena Alsakaji)

“Just the overall atmosphere was just really positive and really affirming” she said. “We talked about the fact that you put in months and months of work for a four-hour event, but it was totally worth it. Just to be able to be together with people who have similar interests that we do, and just are eager to see progress. It’s definitely worthwhile and definitely hoping to grow and expand in the years to come.”

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