History and Happiness Collide at Richmond’s Juneteenth Celebration

Photo Essay, Abene Clayton

Richmond’s Juneteenth Parade and Festival had an abundance of sunshine, soul food and live music. The day started with a stylish parade, complete with Corvettes and classic low-riders sitting on 26-inch spinners. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and the struggles of the black men and women who survived and resisted.

The energy at Nichol Park was full of kinship, as folks of all ages and races enjoyed games, dancing and frozen lemonades. For the older generations, Juneteenth represents an opportunity they seldom have: the chance to reconnect with friends from years gone by.

“We run into people that I haven’t seen since I was in grammar school,” said Betty Ferguson, as she began to round up her grandchildren.

“Everybody is glad to have this day together,” she said with a smile. “It’s like a big picnic for those of us who have not seen each other in a long time.”

A major draw of Richmond’s Juneteenth celebration is its family-friendly environment. The large grassy area was a perfect backdrop for babies, older adults and everyone in between.

Local organizations saw it as an opportunity to spread awareness about important community health and wellness issues. Representatives from the African American Health Conductors (AAHC) fielded questions and gave out literature, educating people on the health disparities plaguing communities of color. Even though Juneteenth was a deep-fried, barbecue sauce wonderland, Renee, who didn’t give her last name, from AAHC was there to remind people of the importance of good nutrition.

“We’re really trying to engage African Americans in health to reduce chronic diseases, really just engaging and letting people know about their history, as well as letting them know that even eating soul food can affect our health,” she said.

In the spirit of good health, the baseball diamond at Nichol Park was the designated kids’ zone. Young ones ran off their funnel cake in giant hamster balls, and played in a pool brimming with bubbles. There was also a stage for dance battles between the Richmond Steelers Cheer Team and, as the emcee referred to them, the “Old School.”

Indeed, this was a day when Richmond’s best qualities were on full display. When genuine conversations occurred between law enforcement and community members. Juneteenth is a day when generations come together in the sun to acknowledge and bask in a rich shared ancestry. It is a celebration that will always be the manifestation of the wildest dreams of enslaved black women and men.

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