Juneteenth is a day of remebrance and celebration. Milwaukeeans discuss what this holiday means to them.

Juneteenth Day is a national day of remembrance and celebration, marking a pivotal moment in American history.

Juneteenth, which is celebrated annually on June 19, commemorates the day the last enslaved African Americans in the United States learned they had been freed in 1865. 

Milwaukee is celebrating its 53rd Juneteenth Day on Wednesday. Every year on Juneteenth, the city comes alive with parades, local food and vendors, historical talks, panels, and a spirit of community. 

We spoke to Milwaukee residents about why Juneteenth is important to them.

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Here’s what they said:

Brit Nicole, spoken word artist

Brit Nicole is a spoken word artist and author.
(Photo provided by Brit Nicole) 

Brit Nicole, a spoken word artist and award-winning author, believes Juneteenth is “not just a celebration” but a time to reflect on one’s responsibility to uplift the community. 

“Juneteenth for me is not just a celebration of Black independence, but the way it brings together community through festivities and culture. Every time I come to Juneteenth, I feel like I’m at the biggest family reunion in the city, filled with the most family members you know and those you’ve yet to meet. It reminds me that with freedom comes responsibility, that I must continue to make use of my light and gifts to leave this world better than before. I owe it to those who paved the way before me with tenacity and fearlessness.”

Michelle Allison, community member. (Photo by PrincessSafiya Byers) 

Michelle Allison, community member

Milwaukee resident Michelle Allison likes Juneteenth’s emphasis on community pride.

“Juneteenth is important to me because it’s one of the only celebrations that we have that is predominantly for African Americans. And it still goes through the actual neighborhood. You know, it exposes the kids to celebration, to pray to Black pride, and we just don’t have those types of things anymore. You know, most of the parades go through downtown. This actually comes through our neighborhood and it focuses on our people and all that’s good about what we still have and what we are still doing. And so that’s one of the reasons why I love Juneteenth and why I would love to see it continue.”

Vaun Mayes, community activist

Vaun Mayes, community activist. (NNS file photo by Elizabeth Baker) 

Vaun Mayes, founder of Program the Parks in the Sherman Park neighborhood, views Juneteenth as a day to educate people about Black history.

“Juneteenth is our own independence liberation celebration. We know that we aren’t taught adequate Black history, so it’s got to be a day for education and celebration. It’s one of the few holidays I actually celebrate. More importantly, it’s a day to actively change the perception people have around Milwaukee. The goal is always to turn that negative perception around and show that positive things happen here.”

Monique Liston, UBUNTU Research & Evaluation

Monique Liston, founder of UBUNTU Research & Evaluation. (Photo provided by Monique Liston) 

Juneteenth is “unapologetically Black” for Monique Liston, founder and chief strategist for the Milwaukee consulting firm, UBUNTU Research & Evaluation.

“Juneteenth is a sacred and unapologetically Black holiday for me and my family. It is a day to remember that Black resistance has a long history in this country, and we must continue to uphold the tradition by celebrating and learning about Black freedom defenders throughout history. For me, celebrating is creating a safe, loving and sacred space for Black people to be — with lots of food, music and family. As a Milwaukeean, we have to be part of the parade and eat some roasted corn. I have been celebrating at our local celebration since I was a child. It is officially the end of the school year and a kickoff to summer.”

Donzella Frazier, COA Teen Impact Program

Donzella Frazier, 17, COA Youth & Family Centers Teen Impact Program participant, believes Juneteenth is about building community.

“I feel like Juneteenth is important because it allows all to get together and celebrate being free. So, I feel like we can all get together to learn and grow from each other. Very important for Black people to just come together as a community. The whole event is good being able to walk around and eat and see people.” 

Emanuel Pierce, COA Teen Impact Program

Emanuel Pierce, 16, COA Teen Impact Program participant, says Juneteenth is a chance to bond with people in the community.

Emanuel Pierce, COA Teen Impact Program participant. (Photo by PrincessSafiya Byers) 

“Juneteenth is important because it gives everyone a free day to come together to remember something. And celebrate more than we usually can. It gives us a chance to bond together instead of fighting against each other. It’s a chance to see people you don’t usually see.”

Heaven McGinnis, COA Teen Impact Program

Heaven McGinnis, 17, COA Teen Impact Program participant, sees Juneteenth as a day in which people come together and celebrate their freedoms.

Heaven McGinnis, COA Teen Impact Program participant.
(Photo by PrincessSafiya Byers) 

“I feel like it’s a day where everybody, all Black people, come together because back in the day, there wasn’t a day where all Black people came together, because we were going through slavery. So, it’s like even though still to this day, we still don’t have the freedom that we need, but it’s like it gives us that time to celebrate the freedom that we have. It’s like we get to be at a family reunion even though we aren’t family, like for the day we are.”

Bryion Melton, COA Teen Impact Program

Bryion Melton, 17, COA Teen Impact Program participant, sees Juneteenth as an opportunity for building community.

Bryion Melton, COA Teen Impact Program participant.
(Photo by PrincessSafiya Byers) 

“I feel like it’s important because you don’t see too many Black people bonding like that on a regular basis. So, that’s just the day you really get to celebrate safely … People are making music. There are a lot of people, but you don’t see that on a regular basis. It’s just Black people being happy and supporting other Black people and I love that for real.”

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Share your thoughts in the comments or email us at info@milwaukeenns.org.