On June 17, Bread for the City and Mema’s Popups will partner to host a Juneteenth event for the second year in a row. (Image Courtesy of Mema’s Popups)

By DaQuan Lawrence,
Special to the AFRO

For the second year in a row, Mema’s Popups and Bread for the City will partner together to host a Juneteenth celebration in the nation’s capital. In commemoration of African world history and in celebration of African American’s emancipation from slavery in the United States, “Juneteenth for the City” will take place Saturday, June 17 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Michelle Obama Southeast Center of Bread for the City, located in Washington, D.C. 

“Last year, we celebrated black liberation alongside over 300 attendees, while distributing 250 free meals, groceries and hosting 35 Black-owned businesses,” said Crystal Iwuoha, senior manager for communications and community engagement at Bread for the City.

The event’s organizers are asking residents in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) area to participate in their second annual celebration, which will include music and sounds of the local culture, as well as dining and shopping opportunities with various Black-owned businesses.

“This year, we invite the community to follow us on a journey through history as we explore the struggles and amazing accomplishments Black Americans have endured and achieved in this country,” said Iwuoha. “The joyous event is free, all ages, and open to all.”

During the first iteration of the celebration, the organizers convened on Good Hope Road in S.E., Washington D.C. The afternoon also included music from local artists, vendors and retailers, as well as food and beverages and fun family activities. This year, the celebration will also be held at 1700 Good Hope Road SE. 

Juneteenth is an annual remembrance of the end of slavery in the U.S. after the Civil War and has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s. Over the years, celebrations around the day have become more popular. 

“We intend to highlight the reasons why we celebrate this day in our Black American History. We indeed have come far as a community but there is still much work to be done and knowing our history is the first step,” said Vannessa Hilton, CEO of Mema’s Popups.

In June 2021, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act legislation after interest in the day was renewed following nationwide protests of the police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Started in 1974, Bread for the City is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help Washington, DC residents living with low income to develop their power to determine the future of their own communities. Mema’s Popups is a local, Black women-owned, small business that organizes pop-up events for local Black-owned businesses and artisans. 

The organizers have presentations and performances planned that will take participants on a journey through history and explore the struggles and accomplishments of Black Americans.

“The event will spotlight Black commerce and economics with Black owned restaurants and other Blacked owned businesses, performances from local musicians and artists, kid friendly and educational activities and so much more,” said Hilton.

This music for this year’s event will be provided by MIXIAM Entertainment and DC’s own Chocolate City Soul will perform from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The celebration promises to have something for people of all ages, and to include several family-friendly activities.

This is particularly significant in Washington D.C., a city that can provide varying experiences for its local Black residents compared to White residents, middle class residents, as well as the economically affluent. 

Despite Black people’s historical significance and importance to D.C., approximately 86,300 Black people are impoverished in the city according to the U.S. Census Bureau and many experience limited access to affordable housing, educational and employment opportunities and resources due to public policies.

While many consider D.C. to be the epicenter of national leadership and political discussion, the livelihoods of many Black D.C. residents reveal a peculiar duality to our nation’s capital.

Historically and contemporarily, events and actions around Juneteenth have also experienced dualities. The day was originally conceived as a commemoration day for June 19, 1865, when Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. 

Granger’s announcement occurred about two months after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation about 18 months prior.

For decades people celebrated the holiday privately until President Biden signed a bill marking Juneteenth as the eleventh federal holiday in June of 2021. To date most states have not passed legislation to recognize the day as a permanent paid holiday. As a result, many state employees throughout the country are not allowed to take a paid vacation day to observe the holiday. 

Currently, roughly 24 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation or issued executive orders that would provide funding to let state employees observe the day as a paid state holiday, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

Opponents of legislation to allocate funding to make Juneteenth a permanent state holiday argue that it would be too expensive to give state employees another paid day off and that not enough people celebrate it. Such is the reality for members of the African diaspora who continue to endure social, racial and institutional discrimination as racism has not yet been outlawed around the world. This reality increases the significance of the celebration hosted by Bread for the City and Mema’s Popups. 

The organizers are encouraging members of the DMV to celebrate and find purpose in the history of the day, despite conflicting federal and state government activity.  

Those interested in attending can find more information on Eventbrite by searching “Juneteenth for the City” by Bread for the City and Mema’s Popups.