Al WysingerFirst Deputy, Chicago Police Department

Chicago Police Department’s First Deputy Al Wysinger returned to Austin last weekend as the grand marshal for the Juneteenth parade.

The three-day festival kicked off last Friday June 14 and wrapped up Sunday. Last Saturday’s parade, which started at Chicago Avenue and Cicero before winding up on Mayfield, was among the festival’s highlights.

Wysinger, a 27-year veteran of the force, called it an honor to be parade grand marshal. Wysinger served as 15th District commander for three years before being promoted to First Deputy — the No. 2 post in the department — in 2008.

“I can’t get back there nearly as much as I want, but just to know that the people still consider me one of their own, and still hold me in high regards, is just heartwarming,” said Wysinger, prior to Saturday’s parade.

“Even though I am at headquarters, Austin is still near and dear to my heart,” Wysinger, who split his time growing up between Englewood, North Lawndale and Austin, added.

He cemented his ties with Austin by dismantling barriers between residents and police. As district commander, he opened up the district’s new station, 5701 West Madison, in 2005 to neighborhood youth, hosting hip-hop nights and basketball tourneys.

Those programs, he said, allowed greater interaction between youth and law enforcement. He also wanted to show the police as mentors and role models for youth, who often see police when bad things happen.

“I think some of the changes that I made over there are some good changes, and you can still see the benefits of just having the community work with the police and open some doors that has never been open in the past,” Wysinger said.

Wysinger describes the festival as a teachable moment for people to learn their history.

“I don’t think our youth or this generation actually understood how much our ancestors and forefathers sacrificed for us to be in the position that we are today,” he said. I am only here today because I stood on the shoulders of everyone that has gone before me. Unless we recognize from which we came, then we won’t appreciate what we have now.”

Malcolm Crawford, executive director of Austin African American Business Networking Association, agreed. Crawford sought Wysinger’s participation in the parade, referring to him as “everybody’s favorite son.”

“Everybody knows him. But most people know him not as the first deputy, but as a classmate, a church member,” Crawford said. “He really is a West Sider or an Austinite. You definitely want to celebrate people like that.”

So you know

This year's Juneteenth Festival, again sponsored by the Westside Historical Society, commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, was also commemorated.

Juneteenth is a nationally-celebrated holiday. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when word finally reached slaves in Texas that they were free, some two years after the proclamation was signed.