Nobody does Juneteenth like Richmond

Nobody does Juneteenth like Richmond
Photos by Mike Aldax and Mike Kinney.

By Mike Aldax and Mike Kinney

A bright sun greeted one of Richmond’s most important community gatherings Saturday: the annual Juneteenth Parade and Festival.

Hundreds of people greeted the lengthy parade that began at Kennedy High School, passed under the recently-created Juneteenth Freedom Underpass Mural on 37th Street, and continued on to Nicholl Park, where a colorful festival took place through the afternoon.

Michelle Milam, crime prevention manager for the City of Richmond and an organizer, said the parade boasted 70 entries and the festival had 117 booths staffed with community organizations, businesses and resources. Soul food was being served by a number of popular local eateries such as CJ’s BBQ & Fish, Snapper Seafood and Cousins Maine Lobster.

The annual event is supported via a partnership between the N.B.A., City of Richmond and Chevron.

The Standard asked dozens of community members at this event what Juneteenth means to them. 

“It is a celebration of freedom,” said AJ Jelani, president of the Belding Woods Neighborhood Council.

Jelani founded the nonprofit organization A.J./Sealcraft, which honors African American individuals, organizations, groups and businesses who contributed to empowering fellow African Americans to improve their communities.

“Juneteenth is a recognition of our culture, our history,” he said. “Our unique past was a functionality of the community. It brought us together.”

Richmond resident Gloria Wilson added, “Juneteenth is a day to remember our ancestor’s struggles for our freedom.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia told us the celebration is “about our community coming together.”

“It’s about recognizing the struggles that it has taken up until now, and that there is still work ahead to achieve true equity and equality,” Gioia said.

Gioia noted Richmond is unique for having had an annual Juneteenth parade and festival years before Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021.

“Richmond has had a great history of winning struggles,” Gioia said. “It is important for us to continue that work.”

“we all have the responsibility to uplift and celebrate how people persevered, and continue to persevere in the face of challenge.”

Gioia said that is why the County has an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice. 

“I was just talking to the school board and superintendent about the work we’re doing, and the superintendent was talking about their equity plan for the school district, so it all comes together,” Gioia said. “Agencies working together.”

Richmond City Councilmember Doria Robinson, who helped carry the City Council banner in the parade alongside some of her Council colleagues, said Juneteenth is a celebration of perseverance.

“It’s the day where everyone…can reflect on what happened with slavery and can realize that we all carry that burden,” Robinson said, “and that we all have the responsibility to uplift and celebrate how people persevered, and continue to persevere in the face of challenge.”

Added Councilmember Cesar Zepeda, “Richmond has been at the forefront of making sure that our community is aware of Juneteenth. And just more recently, people are finding out about Juneteenth and celebrating it in their cities. Once again Richmond is at the forefront.”