Community gathers to celebrate unity and freedom at 11th annual Juneteenth Festival

Community gathers to celebrate unity and freedom at 11th annual Juneteenth Festival

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Ahead of the holiday on Wednesday, people of every age and race gathered at the annual Juneteenth Festival to enjoy food, music, and a variety of vendors, but the event is held as a reminder to educate oneself on the history.

For the entire month, Topeka Family and Friends Juneteenth hosts various fun events that draw the community together and educate everyone little by little about the importance of the recently declared federal holiday.

“I think it is important that we are allowed to come and hear more about what’s going on in the world, more about ways that we can educate others and our children,” festival attendee He’Vin Timmley said.

Juneteenth was not officially declared a federal holiday until 2021, leaving many unaware of its significance. TFFJ President Norma Avery says they are making it a point to inform the younger generation.

“Not only our kids, but everybody’s kids,” Avery emphasized. “They know nothing about Juneteenth and there’s a lot of history here and that history is too great to let sit there and die.”

Current Shawnee Heights student, Makenna Bryant, and Topeka West alum Xzavier Craft emphasized they are grateful their city offers this event because it has taught them so much that they were never exposed to in the classroom.

“We don’t really learn about black culture as much as I feel like we should,” Bryant said.

Craft added, “ This is like my sixth year going to this. It’s been helpful coming out as a black community.”

One vendor, Jacqueline Taylor, was representing Enough is Enough, an organization that raises awareness about racism and gun violence in the black community. She says she’s proud of the way Topeka celebrates its history and never hesitates to participate in this event.

“You know there is Brown versus Board of Education out here, there are people that are vendors that are African American, that are black-owned and it’s about loving one another,” Taylor said. “We shouldn’t be divided.”

Taylor’s message reminds everyone that while there is still work to be done, they wouldn’t be here without those who paved the way.

“On the 19th we were set free, so that history and the event of celebrating it, it means a lot because our ancestors, hey we wouldn’t be here without them,” Avery said.

TFFJ’s events are not over quite yet. Tomorrow a Gospel Extravaganza will be held at St. John AME Church at 4 p.m. and the month’s festivities wrap up on Wed. June 19th with a parade at 11:00 a.m. followed by a program at Evergy Plaza.

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