A group of West Side community organizations are teaming up to put on a 3-day Juneteenth celebration in Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave., June 18 through June 20, noon to 9 p.m. each day. 

With the COVID-19 cases dropping and vaccinations increasing, they wanted to do something that would celebrate the community’s resilience, bring the community together and help those who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet get their shots. 

The Juneteenth West Fest will feature food, games and local organizations sharing resources and information. On June 18, organizers will focus on the youth while on June 19 they’ll focus on families and on June 20, on fathers. 

The festival is spearheaded by Introspect Youth Services, an Austin community organization located at 430 N. Cicero Ave. Introspect provides educational and job placement services for West Side youth. Bernard Clay, the nonprofit’s chair, said that Introspect and other West Side organizations, such as the Austin African American Business Networking Association, the Westside Health Authority and the Chicago West Side branch of the NAACP have talked about putting together a Juneteenth festival for many years. 

“This year, when we saw the city opening up, we thought it would be an opportune time to organize it,” Clay said. Other organizations that are helping to plan the Juneteenth West Fest include the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Habilitative Systems, Fathers Who Care, the Westside Small Businesses Development Corporation, the Bobby Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center, the Austin People’s Action Center and the Academy of Scholastic Achievement charter school. 

Clay said that the organizations are still finalizing many programming details, but that there will be ample opportunity for participants to get information about services and resources in the area. Loretto Hospital officials will be in attendance to give out information about the hospital’s vaccination program. 

Clay also said that the festival will feature “nationally known” gospel and hip-pop acts, but didn’t elaborate any further. Tina Augustus, the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said that there will be appliance giveaways and “reading circles” for kids.

“They’re going to learn about Juneteenth and the history of how African-Americans made this country the success that it is and show different things that came about because of our sacrifices,” she said. 

Clay said that the festival is still taking some COVID-19 precautions. The volunteers will check temperatures of anyone coming in and social distancing will be maintained.

Clay said he hopes many attendees will be able to get vaccinated by the time the festival starts. 

The organizers hope that the Juneteenth West Fest will become a staple event in an effort to promote harmony in the area.

“We hope that it will bring community unity and help eliminate some of the violence in the community,” Clay said. 

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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