From Juneteenth in Minneapolis to Jawnteenth in Philadelphia

Minneapolis, MN – The historic movement for Black lives that has recently permeated the globe reinvigorated 2020’s Juneteenth celebrations. On June 19, 2020, Unicorn Riot reporters documented from two of these celebrations; ‘Jawnteenth’ in West Philadelphia and a celebration in North Minneapolis at a Cub Foods parking lot.

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 as the day of “emancipation” for enslaved Africans. It was started in 1865 when Union soldiers made their way to Galveston, Texas, and shared the news of emancipation, telling slaves they were free. This was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law, ending chattel slavery in the confederate states.

While documenting in Minneapolis, we live streamed a portion of the celebration and a march that went down Broadway Avenue and circled back. Watch the full video below:

Leslie Redmond, the President of the Minneapolis NAACP, sees the resurgence in Juneteenth’s popularity as an indication of an awakening of conscious thought.

Redmond said Juneteenth should be considered a holiday for all of the United States, not just for Black people: “there’s a new level of consciousness of the oppression of Black people, the contributions of Black people.

Juneteenth is like Black people’s Fourth of July. It is a moment that celebrates our “freedom and emancipation” in this country even though we are still fighting for our freedom.” — Leslie Redmond, President of Minneapolis NAACP

On Broadway Avenue one of the march participants told us they felt Juneteenth was “something a lot of non-Black people don’t know about” and that they felt excited that more people were becoming aware of it.

The participant also said it was “important to remember that Juneteenth isn’t a day, but it’s a celebration of a week, and its an understanding of not just getting our freedom but understanding what freedom means.

Dozens of tents in the parking lot of Cub Foods sheltered local vendors selling merchandise as well as community organizations offering resources such as books, food, clothes, art, and more.

Among the community organizations that had a table was WE WIN Institute, a youth-serving non-profit organization in Minneapolis. Staff and volunteers at WE WIN handed out over 500 free books created by Black illustrators and authors as part of a new program called ‘We Win When We Read’.

Titilayo Bediako, the Executive Director of WE WIN, said that only 18% of Black students read at grade level in Minneapolis. Their program ‘We Win When We Read’ aims to get youth excited about reading, particularly through seeing themselves represented in the books they’re reading.

Of the several groups providing security at the event, one group of note was the Minnesota Freedom Fighters. The Freedom Fighters formed in the days of the George Floyd uprising to protect houses from arson, as well as community members from threats of the police and from suspected racists looking to take advantage of the chaotic situation.

We don’t want to be the police; we are not the police! But, we want to protect our community and our people from the police and from threats.” — Newz, MN Freedom Fighters

We spoke with Newz and Fox, two members of the Freedom Fighters, about their mission of patrolling the streets and securing protests and events while armed. They seek to be “the bridge to link the police and the community together.

For me, to be here is one of the most uplifting yet redefining experiences I’ve ever had in my life.” — Fox, MN Freedom Fighters

Fox said that his zest to volunteer his time with the Freedom Fighters stems from his own family’s history dealing with racism in the South, and he feels it’s his duty to protect his community.

Among the festivities in the parking lot were numerous food tents. In the Pimento Kitchen food tent was a slew of top chefs from across the Twin Cities metro.

Pimento’s co-founder, Tomme Beevas, introduced us to the chefs and stated that local residents have both the willpower and the resources to make Minneapolis a “model city for the world.” The chefs included Chef Tomme Beevas of Pimento Kitchen; Chef Alex Roberts of Brasa and Alma; Chef Nick Hall from Caribbean Kitchen; Chefs Sameh Wadi and Saed Wadi of World Street Kitchen and Grand Catch; and Chef Andrew Zimmern of Lucky Cricket and Food Network.

World-renowned food personality Andrew Zimmern said there was no other place he would rather be, and that publicly celebrating Juneteenth on this scale is “400 years late in coming—thank God we’re doing it today.


Meanwhile in West Philadelphia, thousands gathered at Malcolm X Park for their annual ‘Jawnteenth’ celebration. Philly’s Jawnteenth is a “Juneteenth celebration of Black joy, freedom, and resistance.” The terminology of “Jawn” is a Philly slang descriptor for nouns.

The festivities in Philly included food, community resources, DJs, horses, and the Positive Movement drumline.

After a celebratory march, Krystal Strong from the Black Radical Organizing Collective read demands from the community, some of which included freedom for political prisoners, an abolition of the carceral system, the firing of ‘killer cops,’ the dismantling of police, and more funding for schools and communities.

As the United States starts to wrestle with its historical ills, Juneteenth celebrations in Minneapolis and Philadelphia showed the resilience and self-determination of a community which has endured more than 400 years of systemic oppression by the colonialist settler regime that still reigns today.

Disclaimer: The author is a former employee of WE WIN Institute.


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