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First-Ever Juneteenth Festival In Riviera Beach Promotes Economic Empowerment And Resources in Black Communities

Co-founders Brittany Mitchell (left) and Sukeenah Kelly (right)
Juneteenth of Palm Beach County
Co-founders Brittany Mitchell (left) and Sukeenah Kelly (right)

The nonprofit Juneteenth of Palm Beach County is partnering with the City of Riviera Beach for a Juneteenth festival. The inaugural event uses Juneteenth to uplift people and promote social and economic discussions in Black communities.

The Juneteenth holiday celebrates more than the freedom of enslaved Black Americans. Community leaders say it’s an opportunity to produce year-round programs, addressing issues like affordable housing, theracial wealth gap, disparities in health, education and business.

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Sukeenah Kelly is the co-founder of Juneteenth of Palm Beach County and the Juneteenth Collective, a small cadre of young professionals using the national observance to promote health and wellness, finance, and education because Black communities tend to be “marginalized at disproportionate rates.”

“This is important to us as a community to speak on the things that worry and that bother us but at the same time provide resources to take care of those things,” Kelly said. “Juneteenth celebration is for all of our accomplishments. So we encompass everything that we have overcome throughout history.”

President Joe Biden signed a bill this week establishing June 19th or Juneteenth, the date commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, as a federal holiday. Juneteenth National Independence Day is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

May 20th is Emancipation Day — it’s Florida's version of Juneteenth. A month before Union General Gordon Granger made it to Galveston, Texas, to announce the emancipation of enslaved African people on June 19th, Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook made a similar announcement in Tallahassee.

Kelly says the collective is using Juneteenth instead of Emancipation Day since the national holiday resonates more broadly, alongside the rising discussions surrounding Black economic empowermentby young people across the state.

The Juneteenth Festival was an idea that was sparked between Kelly and co-founder Brittany Mitchell in 2017 but the event and collective never materialized until the protests after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020.

Kenesha Hemmings is the Chief Operating Officer. Hemmings responded to critics who believe Juneteenth is a distraction. She says critics of the observance don't understand the power of leveraging momentum for concrete changes.

“Just like how they [United States] celebrate July Fourth in many ways of coming together with family and friends, we’re doing the same thing but we’re also putting that educational factor in front of it,” Hemmings said. “We’re also putting the factor of the civil unrest. We’re also putting economic equality into our celebration.”

The collective also includes Taraneisha Burgess, Webster Casseus, and Christopher McAfee, each playing a significant role in their quest to “raise awareness and connect the community.”

The collective is developing year-round leadership programs that will sustain their message about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and community development. It will also include a four-part series workshop that seeks to connect students to the continent of Africa and its diaspora.

Alongside food and music, the free Juneteenth event, taking place at the Riviera Beach Marina Village on Saturday, will also include informational booths, health and wellness tents.

“We've been working hard to network with certain experts in the community and small businesses that hone in on those specific factors,” Kelly said.

“We want people to leave with more than they came with.”

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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