By Brooklyn Fellner
Just over 200 people gathered at Drexel Park Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of the United States’ last slaves. People from across the community danced, relaxed and browsed vendors’ stands as celebratory music blared from a DJ booth. With free food, free drinks and a welcoming atmosphere, organizers’ call for community, equality and engagement met an excited crowd of friends and neighbors.
WKDU, Drexel University’s radio station, provided DJ equipment and speakers for performance artists to use. DJ Chris played music spanning modern rap to 90s hip hop, from caribbean to latin. TYE (@whostye) performed a freestyle about Black Lives Matter that recently brought him attention on Twitter. Other performers included Oliver Wolff (@oliverwxlff) , Nostalgic Nook (@215nook), Ju’lia Danielle (@spokenjewels_), Ray Legend (@official_raylegend), KennethMayfield (@kenneth.mayfield), Jaya Tucker (@therealjayatucker) and Joshua Tucker, aka Osh (@osh_zenith).
While not a specified fundraiser, the event included opportunities to donate to West Kensington Ministry, a local nonprofit that supplied tables for vendors.
Vendors offered a wide array of products, such cosmetics, artwork and clothing. Shop HerMine (@shophermine), founded by Hatian designer Eisha Hermine Casimir, showcased bathing suits that flatter all body types. Inspired by her own name, Casimir’s flyer noted:
“Our mission is to teach everyone how to learn to embrace the beauty in your name.”
Brittany Lewis of Mood Clothing Collection (@itsa_mood) also contributed to the event’s garment selections. Lewis started Mood Clothing Collection about six months ago, making this her shop’s first Juneteenth celebration appearance
Drexel student Kaya Gravesande (@kayag__) set up shop at Drexel Park to sell body care items such as Irish sea moss, shipped African shea butter and African black soap. Gravesande started the business as a response to an internship cancellation. This was also an opportunity to follow in her father’s footsteps, as he owned an African culture shop on South Street for 17 years.
“I grew up in that store, he taught me customer service and everything from a really early age… My co-op got cancelled, so I just decided to start my own business,” she said.
“My dad has been telling me about this (Juneteenth) for a long time … I heard someone say the year of 2020 is the year of clear vision, 20/20 vision. People are finally waking up and seeing what’s going on, so I’m excited. We should celebrate it every year,” she added.
Wyn Essentials (@wyn_essentials), a natural hair, health and beauty product brand founded by Paden Brown also made an appearance at the Juneteenth celebration. Two eyelash vendors also joined sold goods, including WELOVETISOIT (@welovetisoitx), founded by Chelsea Tisoit and ilashandlace (@ilashandlace), a lash extension service owned by a Drexel student. K.G. Essentials showcased their products as well..
Tianna Williams, President of Drexel’s Black Action Committee, helped organize the event and sold her own art prints, earrings and bracelets under the business name of Rad Cat Arts (@radcatarts). Williams said she takes inspiration from current events and puts it into her artwork.
“Right now, I’ve been really inspired and motivated by what’s happening, and I’m always doing my art from myself as a Black woman,” Williams said.
Event organizer Ariel Bradley explained that the group of organizers wanted to showcase Black businesses in the community in a way that was welcoming, inviting and celebratory. Bradley, who is a Drexel Music Industry student from Germantown, initially expected the event would be very well-attended, as they created a Facebook event that brought tremendous positive feedback. Attendance met Bradley’s expectations, as roughly 200 people from the community showed for the event.
“I’m very happy, I really enjoyed myself and everyone else enjoyed themselves too!” she said.
Bradley also expressed how important she thinks it is that Juneteenth is a holiday. She said that African Americans do not have many holidays which celebrate their culture, so Juneteenth is a special day in their community.
Bradley spoke on the issue of inequity, highlighting the lack of intergenerational businesses ownership in Black communities, putting young Black entrepreneurs at a disadvantage in getting started. To better support locally Black owned businesses, Bradley said:
“Give us better education on financial literacy so we know how to use our money to have successful businesses.”
Marcos Villacorta , a 21 year old EMT and soon to be Temple student who grew up in Kensington, emphasized on how important it was for both events to be safe spaces for women, especially Black trans women, as their community is one of the most oppressed in America.
Earlier on in the month, Villacorta, with the help of several other event organizers (Bradley included) hosted a candlelight vigil for the life of Breonna Taylor. Girls Rock Philly also had a large presence at the vigil. Girls Rock Philly is a youth organization focused on creating an intergenerational community of girls, women and trans and non conforming-people.
“Our spaces are inclusive to Black trans women first, and then everyone else comes after. That’s very important for events like this,” he said.
In organizing the Juneteenth cookout, Villacorta noted how publicity for the event spread mostly through social media and word of mouth, making clear the importance of community involvement in holding the event.
“I think the idea of doing it was to highlight businesses that we know in our own circles and out extended circles and to really allow the people who were coming to see these vendors and how much they have to offer,” he said.
Villacorta expressed how he thinks it is extremely important to reevaluate the way people are educated about Juneteenth, as it has been misrepresented, misexplained and “swept under the rug.”
“It’s something that needs to be acknowledged at least in American history. It was a point in time when there was some REALLY SHADY SHIT and that’s a parallel of what’s happening today; slavery is not gone. It’s kind of just pushed itself quietly under the prison industrial complex, so by highlighting this holiday, we sort of bring that to the forefront of the conversation,” he added.
For Villacorta, getting to know your local Black-owned businesses and understanding why they are selling their products is the first step in supporting the community, acknowledging the nation’s inequitable shift towards white-dominant corporatism
“I think our generation, especially our minority population, is going to be the ones to step into corporate affairs and start making their own corporations, but we are also going to see a boom again in local businesses … We will see a lot of empowerment going on in Black and Hispanic and POC communities,” he said.
Reflecting on the event, Villacorta offered thoughts on recentering the purpose of the cookout:
“By throwing little celebrations, we’re taking steps towards getting those things put into our history books and put into our youth. Once we are able to get this stuff into their minds, that’s going to change the way they view the world and that’s very important,” he said.