Juneteenth Chicago NFP’s 1st Annual Parade began in mildly understated fashion on Saturday. Shortly after 10:45 in the morning, the motorcade led by primary organizers Rickie Brown and Charles Jenkins, district police, representatives of WVON radio station and the Chicago Born Losers motorcycle group rode from John Marshall Metropolitan High School, 3250 W. Adams, to Garfield Park.
The parade, which headed north on Spaulding then West along Madison to Garfield Park, was at times met by curiosity and at other times disinterest from onlookers on the street. Still, others showed respect evident from the dozens of residents aligning the streets, on the sidewalks and sitting on their porches to view the short parade. Many, however, seemed unprepared for the uplifting display of racial pride signified by the flapping red, green and black African flags attached to the cars, and with “black power” raised fists poking out of the windows from the riders inside.
“I think celebrating Juneteenth is the first step in educating and enlightening the community, and what the holiday and the red, black and green flag truly represents within our history,” said organizer Charles Jenkins, president of Juneteenth Chicago NFP.
Supporters of the fest included West Side activists like Betty Robinson, Douglass Middle School Local School Council board member.
“I met Rickie while I was on the LSC board, and was immensely motivated to work with him on the Juneteenth Fest,” she said.
Along with contacting potential sponsors, Robinson, through her employment with the Department of Health, was able to arrange a special visit to Saturday by a special Care-van that delivered vaccinations to students returning to classes in the fall.
LaSheena Lee, a billing and consulting entrepreneur, was encouraged to attend by her mother Denise Lee.
“My mother encouraged me to get involved in this event because she felt it was a wonderful chance to give a voice to the activist movement on the West Side,” she said
The festival began last Friday, but not without a hitch or two. The event’s original start date on Thursday was cancelled, trimming the West Side events from four to three days. A financial issue forced the festival’s DJ to bailed on Friday. The organizers improvised Saturday by blasting music from their car radios. By Sunday, they were able to have a sound system setup.
Saturday also saw a special award ceremony honoring sponsors Cong. Danny K, Davis and Ald. Ed Smith (28th)
Davis, who was unaware of the honor, said Saturday: “I was not quite expecting this today, but I’ve never turned down anything.”
Among the vendors -and most discussed-was Eyes Wide Open, and their exhibit featuring 200 pairs of combat boots representing Black service men from Illinois killed in the War in Iraq.
Spread across an open patch of green grass near Garfield Park’s water ponds, the solemn display drew several on-lookers looking to pay their respects.
Camille Griffin, a Truman College student, came out Saturday representing Fight Youth Militarization of CPS, speaking out against military recruitment practices targeting mostly minority and low-income communities.
“When you’re in high school all you may focus on is ‘hey I can make money for college’ but you are not informed of alternative ways to pay for school or the downside to enlisting,” said Griffin. “Students are not told about scholarship opportunities, or the fact that many jobs they have in the service are difficult to find after they come home, or the fact minorities make up 30 percent of the military but only 12 percent of the officers.”
Some visitors echoed her sentiment, except for one vocal army veteran.
“I don’t regret serving my country for a second,” said the handicapped veteran, who preferred not to give his name. “My experience was different; I saw plenty of black men in officer positions when I was in the service. I thing some of your information is overblown.”
This type of social debate regarding race and power is just the type conscious raising the organizers had in mind.