The scent of popcorn, the sounds of music and children playing filled the air as the community gathered to celebrate Juneteenth.
About 100 people attended Gainesville’s second Freedom Fest June 17 at Bo Diddley Plaza.
The festival was a part of the third annual “Journey to Juneteenth,” which is a month-long celebration of the federal holiday. The events start on the anniversary of Florida’s Emancipation, May 20, 1865, and end on Juneteenth, the day Union General Gordon Granger read the proclamation in Galveston, Texas, and freed the last U.S. slaves June 19, 1865.
President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021, federally recognizing it.
Turbado Marabou, a Yoruba priest, began the festival with a libation — a moment of reverence and recognition to ancestors. The purpose of the speech was to bring history and context to the festival, he said. Poets, dancers, singers, storytellers and drummers took to the stage to showcase their talents afterward.
Nathaniel Courtney Jr., a 40-year-old Freedom Fest organizer, said his father is the inspiration behind the event.
Courtney Jr.’s father started organizing annual Juneteenth programs in 2010. When his father was battling cancer in 2018, Courtney Jr. and his family put together a Juneteenth Gospel festival. Following the success of that event, they put on the first iteration of the Freedom Fest in 2022.
Organizing the event and communicating history to the community is deeply rewarding, he said.
“It is an honor to have the responsibility… I really hope it continues,” Courtney Jr. said.
Attendees found the event educational and culturally enriching.
Malcolm Newsone, a 16-year-old Gainesville High School student, learned more about Black culture through the community than through school, he said. Freedom Fest was the first Juneteenth event he attended.
Detra Earnest, a 52-year-old Ocala resident, was one of the booth owners and founder of The Swookie Cookie Company, a sweet potato based cookie business.
Juneteenth should’ve been a holiday sooner, Earnest said.
She has celebrated Juneteenth since childhood. For her, the holiday marks more than the end of slavery — it marks a moment to gather and express different talents, she said “that makes the culture beautiful.”
The festival allows business owners like Earnest to market and sell their products, attracting attention and, hopefully, customers.
Notable community figures like Mayor Harvey Ward, Commissioner Bryan Eastman and Commissioner Ed Book celebrated the event alongside the community. Ward spoke at the event, and reaffirmed Gainesville’s commitment to Juneteenth.
As for Courtney Jr., he said the event was a great success and will continue.
“I think that spirit of unity, that spirit of community, was really embodied, and it showed at Freedom Fest yesterday,” Courtney Jr. said.
Contact Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gvelasquezn.
Gabriel Velasquez Neira is a second-year Journalism major, and the Audio Editor and Metro GA Reporter. In his free time, he enjoys sleeping, taking photos and playing guitar.