Juneteenth celebrated over weekend

Event commemorates end of slavery, hosted by African American Museum of Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS — “No more shackles, no more chains. No more bondage, I am free.”

Singing under a large green-and-white striped tent Saturday afternoon, the 11-member Johnston STEAM Academy Gospel Choir serenaded the stage to tunes like “Freedom” by Eddie James.

Before the gospel choir, a spoken word performance by Micah Ariel James. After, a jazz performance by Iowa musician Kevin Burt.

Across from the stage, vendors lined a field of grass at Viola Gibson Park. Organizations like United Way, the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, churches and law enforcement all braving the sun as hundreds of people wove in and out of the park for the annual Juneteenth Celebration.

Hosted by the African American Museum of Iowa, Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in America.

For the African American Museum of Iowa, which organizes the event each year, Juneteenth focuses on education and celebration — to both celebrate freedom from slavery but also create a place to talk about the progress of the African American community since 1865.

LaNisha Cassell, executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa, said that looking around she thought everybody — vendors, performers, community members alike — looked happy to be at the celebration.

“I think all of the organizations look forward to be able to share what they do in the community,” Cassell said. “It’s been a positive thing.”

Several of the vendors, like Imagination Iowa and Iowans for Guns Safety, were attending the event for the first time.

Amanda Sorensen, a volunteer for Imagination Iowa, said that she really felt an atmosphere of community at the celebration and enjoyed that it was friendly and accommodating.

While most vendors were spreading awareness to their organization, some were also handing out goodies or ‘swag’ like the United Way or the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission.

Tommy Govert, with the United Way Reading into Success program, brought 896 books to the Juneteenth celebration. There, children of all reading levels were able to take a book home for free.

At the Civil Rights Commission tent, children that answered a question, such as “Can you treat someone different if their skin is a different color?” would earn the opportunity to spin a wheel and win a prize.

These mixes of new and consistent elements at Juneteenth is what Museum Educator Krystal Gladden, in an earlier interview with The Gazette, said makes the celebration so fun.

“As the needs, the triumphs and the challenges of the Black community change, so will Juneteenth,” Gladden said. In many ways, it is a reflection on how far we have come since slavery, and space to discuss and analyze where we are and where we are going as a community.”

Shameka Outlaw, with International Paper, the presenting sponsor of the event, said she liked watching the stage performances — and the people watching the performances — during the celebration.

Seeing everybody being able to enjoy the different acts in their own way and at their own level, Outlaw said, is what she liked the most.

The celebration also featured a magician, balloon artist and face painter, along with fried fish and snow-cones available to purchase.

l Comments: (319) 368-8531; alexandra.connor@thegazette.com

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