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“Before I Let Go” by Maze, Frankie Beverly & The Butlers, and other tunes courtesy of WAMO could be heard from Market Street in Downtown Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, pulling attendees into FusionFest: Echoes of Our Ancestors, Beats of the Future.

FusionFest was the culminating event for Juneteenth this year in Pittsburgh — Juneteenth was celebrated the entire month in the city and throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Juneteenth is a national holiday that celebrates June 19, 1865, paying homage to the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom. Juneteenth marks the unofficial end of slavery in America. The official end came in December 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

The festival was originally scheduled for Saturday but moved to Sunday because of a severe weather forecast.

“It’s a day for celebration. As we continue to evolve, the more things that we have to show a culturally diverse city, the better our city will be. Today is a day to demonstrate positivity,” Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said.

Pittsburgh City Council funded multiple Juneteenth Festivals, including the Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration in mid-June and Sunday’s events. The latter event was the city of Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth celebration and was said to be an addition rather than a competitor to any of the other festivals.

“I am super excited about today. It was great to see everyone come out. The vibes were exactly what I wanted and exactly how I envisioned it to be,” said Fantasy Zellars, curator of FusionFest and founder and president of Bounce Marketing & Events.

The festival spanned Third Avenue, Smithfield Street and wrapped around the Boulevard of the Allies.

Some referred to FusionFest as more of an experience than just an event. The celebration included music, performances, vendors and food. Musicians like the Edmund Brothers performed covers of songs like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” showcasing a multitude of talent within the city.

There was a full art gallery featuring more than 20 artists — artist and community leader Ernest Bey did live wood carvings and a large canvas sat on an easel that attendees had the opportunity to add paint to and make their own personal touch to a community collaboration FusionFest art piece.

There were many vendors present, including Nabakindo, an all-natural shea butter-based skincare company. The First Lady of Pittsburgh, Michelle Gainey, helped Philip Gbee and his family set up and get settled in their booth. He said that was something you don’t see all the time, and it made them feel welcomed.

“We have the opportunity to see a lot of the different aspects that the city has to offer. The folks walking by, getting to know them, and sharing our products and story has been amazing,” Gbee said.

The atmosphere felt like a communal space and celebration of Black culture in its many layered forms. That message was only underscored by the setting of FusionFest being a block party surrounding The Greenwood-Smithfield Building, the only fully Black-owned building downtown, featuring Emerald City, a co-working space.

Alexis Russell, board vice president of the Greenwood Plan, said having the building serve as the hub for FusionFest was an honor and privilege.

“Today was an absolute gem, seeing all these people come together and seeing how we were able to pull this together in such a short amount of time. Everything was phenomenal,” Russell said.

The streets flowed with people, most of whom stayed until sunset. Guests could go inside the Mocha Lounge for a reprieve from the heat of the early afternoon, where there were musical performances and author chats.

The Mocha Lounge was curated and organized by Jacquea Mae from Wilkinsburg.

“We just wanted to make a homage to all the Black-owned businesses and establishments from the Shadow Lounge to the Crawford Grill to all the spots where Black people have been able to feel safe and loved so joy can flourish,” Mae said.

Carmen Haley said the artistry and innovation gave her a strong sense of pride in not only her city but also her culture.

“It’s so much culture, even Latino and Afro-Latino. I love it,” Haley said.

Author Carlos T. Carter read passages from his book “Greatness Awaits You!: 23 Ways to Unlock the Greatness Within,” and Dr. Edda Fields-Black read from her book “Combee.”

“It’s wonderful to be here in Pittsburgh celebrating freedom and introducing my home community to Harriet Tubman’s Civil War service, the Combee River raid, and the Combee freedom seekers. It is truly an honor,” Fields-Black said.

What also made the day special were free Juneteenth flags and bracelets and a historical timeline of Juneteenth events curated by Tracey Jennings.

“A lot of people really do not know from the very beginning. I wanted to take people on a centuries-long odyssey, which leads to The Emancipation Proclamation, then to the freedom of the people in Galveston, and then to where the celebrations began,” Jennings said.

The night ended with Fashion Africana produced by Demeatria Boccella, complete with a full fashion show, intermission dance performances and roller skating performance. The theme was the Harlem Renaissance and designer Therez Fleetwood incorporated vibrant colors, paying homage to artists like Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Elizabeth Catlett through her pieces.

The show was followed by an after-party inside Emerald City.

For Ajani Zanaya, walking in the show was a dream come true.

“To be able to walk for Juneteenth, celebrating the freedom of my people, getting to wear my natural hair and it being embraced, in the fashion industry that is not always valued. And to work with a wonderful designer and Demeatria, I adored it,” Zanaya said.

Gainey emphasized that it was beautiful to see Juneteenth festivals increase this year to at least four to five in the city alone.

“It’s a new vibe in this city. We did exactly what we said we would do,” Gainey said.

Shaylah Brown is a TribLive reporter covering art, culture and communities of color. A New Jersey native, she joined the Trib in 2023. When she’s not working, Shaylah dives into the worlds of art, wellness and the latest romance novels. She can be reached at sbrown@triblive.com.