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Before President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in June 2021, two community change agents on Chicago’s far South Side were two years into a successful Juneteenth celebration of their own, one grounded in creating a healing and celebratory space for Black heritage and culture in the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood.

The Juneteenth Family Festival will return to W. 110th Pl. and Longwood Drive on June 17. More than 3,000 attendees are expected to visit the festival, which is free and open to the public. Between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., there will be a youth area focused on STEM, youth story-time, an arts and crafts space, double-dutch, basketball games, and volleyball games.

According to festival co-founder Jurema N. Gorham, the event is becoming a community staple; it’s almost as big as the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She noted Longwood Avenue had to be shut down due to the high volume of people entering and leaving the festival in 2022. 

“Where we are now, I think God put it in that space because we are going to be in the heart of Morgan Park,” Gorham told The TRiiBE. “You can’t ignore it. We are going to be at the heart of where there’s been a lot of culture and racial tension.”

While the festival will be held in Morgan Park, a majority-Black neighborhood, residents from Beverly and Mount Greenwood — both majority-white neighborhoods that tend to vote conservatively — are invited as well.  Juneteenth Family Festival co-founder Shanya Gray said their event is an opportunity to build bridges within the community.

“We are a diverse community. It is not enough to be side-by-side with each other. Like, there has to be intentionality in bringing people together,” Gray said. “There has to be intentionality in getting to know each other and celebrating the culture. So this festival was meant to really do that. It’s fostering a sense of community, and a sense of belonging, especially for the African American population here.”

Gorham and Grey met each other through Gorham’s community outreach efforts to expand the footprint of her nonprofit organization, Burst Into Books, into the Beverly/Morgan Park community. Burst Into Books is dedicated to building community through arts, advocacy, educational and family programming.

Gorham, a West Pullman resident and Morgan Park High School alumna, said the idea for the first Juneteenth Family Festival in 2019 came during a conversation with Gray. Both were lamenting the lack of celebration and acknowledgement of Black History Month, and wondered what they could do about it moving forward. Gray, a native of Barbados, bought a home with her husband in the Beverly community in 2009.

“I feel like we just had such a connection by really understanding, like, first and foremost, why are not all families being represented in this neighborhood?” Gorham said. “I was talking to [Gray] about how I would love to do an event together and she mentioned Juneteenth.”

After their initial conversation about a Juneteenth celebration, the duo took off. Gorham said she secured the permit to host their first Juneteenth Family Festival at the Dan Ryan Woods. She estimates that more than 300 people were in attendance. 

“For me, this was evidence that this needed to continue,” Gorham said.

Photo courtesy of Juneteenth Family Festival.

After the first festival, Gray wanted to move the event closer to the center of the neighborhood. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In 2020, instead of hosting the Juneteenth Family Festival, Gorham and Gray organized a business crawl to highlight local Black-owned businesses. 

In 2021, both the festival and the Black-owned business crawl returned, moving to the intersection of W. 110th Pl. and Longwood Drive., which is nestled between Morgan Park United Methodist Church, Morgan Park Presbyterian Church, and Bohn (Henry) Park.  Gorham and Gray decided not to continue hosting the Black business crawl and to instead focus primarily on the festival. 

Gray said there is historic relevance to where the celebration is being held. 

In the 1970s, the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) organized residents of Beverly and Morgan Park to resist blockbusting and white flight and integrate the neighborhoods in a stabilized manner. It’s partly as a result of BAPA’s efforts that Morgan Park and Beverly are more integrated than Mount Greenwood to the west or Roseland to the east. But Beverly has hardly been a utopia. In 1971, the first Black residents to move into north Beverly had rocks thrown through their windows. And in the 1990s, then-Ald. Ginger Rugai got the City to install cul-de-sacs in north Beverly to prevent shoppers at Evergreen Plaza, a mall patronized by many Black South Siders, from driving through the neighborhood.

Gray noted that history as part of the reason for hosting an inclusive Juneteenth event. “It’s really important that we’re bringing in the west side and the east side [of Beverly], people of different races together to recognize, acknowledge, celebrate African American history, culture and heritage,” she said.

As the festival has grown in size, Gorham and Gray brought on eight coordinators — all Black women — to complete various tasks needed to bring the festival to life. They needed help with securing permits, fundraising, selecting vendors and more. 

“I believe our committee is full of rockstars,” Gorham said. “It wasn’t like a criteria here, like, ‘you got to be a Black woman to be in this community.’ I believe that it just has happened that way and it is beautiful and we have a lot of amazing Black men that have been supporting this work as well. The boots on the ground have really been led by the women and it’s been really  beautiful to see.”

As an assistant professor and counselor at Moraine Valley Community College, Gray is currently researching mitigating racial trauma. She wants the Juneteenth Family Festival to be a healing space, too. 

“One of the things that research has shown is [that] really having spaces like this, where you can take pride in your ethnic and cultural heritage, can affirm your ethnic identity,” Gray said. “You can really feel free and embrace who you are. All of these are healing modalities, ways of healing racial trauma, hurt, pain, and just coming together and having these conversations, and also celebrating. The goal is really to be able to be healed, educated, and to build bridges.”

is a freelance contributor for The Triibe.