The 10th annual Juneteenth Festival wrapped up with a Saturday peace parade that trekked down Chicago Avenue before ending at a community garden on Mayfield Avenue.
The parade kicked off at Chicago and Cicero with a cavalcade of participants, including several high school marching bands, the Broken Arrow Horseback Riding Club, churches and community organizations.
Austin native and former 15th District Police commander Al Wysinger served as parade grand marshal. Wysinger is now first deputy chief in the Chicago Police Department. The Peace Parade was the main event of the three-day festival, which included vendors, live performances, food and a resource fair.
Festival organizer Rickie Brown, of the Westside Historical Society, envisions the parade becoming the Bud Billiken of the West Side. Started in 2003, the event has grown in momentum and support from local aldermen.
“That is what it is going to end up being. Gives us a couple more years, [and] it is going to be great,” Brown said.
Lady Dee Baidoo, block club president of the 5200 Block of Adams, coined the phrase “Blacktastic” to describe this year’s festival. Baidoo said the event had a sense of community about it.
“The fact that we come out together and there is no gangbanging or fighting lets you know there’s hope,” she said.
Saturday’s event included several ceremonies honoring community residents, including a commemorative tree planting for the late Rev. Lewis Flowers, chair of the Westside Ministers Coalition, who died last December. Flowers was a staunch community activist whose many achievements included founding the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy in 2006.
For Gwen Tyler, the festival mirrored her brother-in-law’s work in the community. Flowers, she said, spent his entire life opening community and resource centers so residents had places to go to address their needs, such as jobs, finding an apartment or getting a bill paid. She said he promoted community empowerment.
“I think the message they are trying to send out is community togetherness. That’s the bottom line — community togetherness,” Tyler said.