For 15 years, Jefferson City community members have celebrated the Juneteenth Heritage Festival, capturing the essence of black talent, aspirations and camaraderie. As the event enters it 16th year, stakeholders are still proud to host it.
Juneteenth is a national celebration of the freeing of the last slaves in Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
"From a historical perspective, the festival is so much more than just a celebration," said Frank Wallermann, one of the original founders of Juneteenth Jefferson City. "I think this is a historically significant date for the last of those slaves and should be celebrated by all people and all races."
Originally, the heritage festival was hosted by the local NAACP. In 2006, it became known as the Citizen's of Juneteenth, a community-based initiative. By 2009, the group attained status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Over the years, the schedule of events has not changed much, offering a foundation for those who may host the festival in the future. The event kicks off at 2 p.m. June 11 with the Father's Day Banquet.
This year, in addition to honoring fathers, law enforcement officers also will be recognized. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children age 12 and under.
At 7 p.m. June 16, the Little Mr. and Miss Juneteenth Pageant showcases children ages 4-9. With this year's theme of "Health, Hope and Happiness," contestants will have to describe a past or present figure that represents the theme based on their interpretation.
The program will be hosted at Pawley Theatre in Martin Luther King Hall on the Lincoln University campus.
At 10 a.m. on the last festival day, the signature emancipation program starts. Local spoken-word artist William Fisher will be the keynote speaker.
A new addition to this year's program is a motorcade parade from Memorial Plaza — where the emancipation program is held — which will head to the Heritage Festival at Ellis-Porter Riverside Park. This is where community members can see the presentation of Mr. & Miss Juneteenth and performances by those in the Juneteenth's Got Talent competition.
One of the biggest changes over the years was the festival's move from the Community Center at 608 E. Dunklin St. to Ellis-Porter Riverside Park. Wallerman and longtime volunteer Ronald Nelson agreed this has been one of the main concerns for community members due to the transportation barriers it created.
The Community Center was essentially a centralized location for members of the black community in Jefferson City, Nelson said.
"One positive thing the move to the park did for the festival was allow us to expand, giving the opportunity for more activities and vendors who we have welcomed every year," he added.
Over the years, Nelson said, his most memorable aspect of Juneteenth was a dance camp that incorporated elements of nutrition into the curriculum. For Wallermann, the laying of the wreath during the emancipation program is one of the most historically significant pieces.
Maggie George, a volunteer of 15 years, simply enjoys the fun, food and entertainment the festival provides to community members of all ages.
"We are thankful for the continued support of the vendors, sponsors and community members who come out to the festival so we are able to host it," George said.
Shauna Blanche, director of marketing and volunteer management at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City, has been involved with the youth entertainment for four or five years and said everyone's participation is necessary for the festival to thrive.
"It's important the youth understand what this event means, and it's equally as important for the adults to keep this event going no matter what," Blanche said.
Blanche said she believes participation would increase if the event was moved back to its original side of town, and she also suggested the Boys & Girls Club could be used as a resource to supply busing for the event.
"We'd love to see increased participation by the entire Jefferson City community, especially with the young people," Wallermann said.