Magnolia-area resident celebrated Juneteenth together this weekend with a culmination of activities ending Saturday at South Side Park.
Celebrations began with a Gospel Explosion Friday night at Southern Arkansas University’s Reynolds Center. The event featured Righteous Living, God’s Purpose, One Vision’s Ministry in Motion, Zaneta Kitchen and the Juneteenth Community Choir.
Kizmet Davis, the president of United Community Organization which puts on Magnolia’s Juneteenth festivities, said having the concerts indoors this year was a great idea. Davis has been a member of the UCO for the past three years which has held Juneteenth in Magnolia for the past seven or so years. The festival started in Magnolia back in the late 1980s.
“We were packed to capacity,” she said. “We had the right gospel groups on the lineup.”
Davis scarcely had a voice by the time she was interviewed around 4 p.m. Saturday as she had been active with the 30 or so members of her organization to make the event go off successfully. She said the event means a lot to her because of Juneteenth’s place in history. This is something she wants young people to know about, said Davis, who works as an education specialist with the Talent Search program at Southern Arkansas University.
“It celebrates culture and it is also a means of boosting morale as well as unity in our community,” Davis said. “Young people are not as knowledgeable of the history of Juneteenth and I feel like with technology today they have the resources right at their fingertips to look up Juneteenth and research its significance.”
LaShonda Traylor-Clayton, who is a family nurse practitioner and is opening Wellness and Healthcare Consulting in Camden in the next few months, was relaxing under one of the tents while her friends cooked nearby. Traylor-Clayton agrees it is important for adults to continue the tradition of Juneteenth to teach younger generations.
“We need to come here and celebrate our freedom of slavery which took place 200 years ago and we need to talk about how it impacts our culture as African-Americans,” she said. “Because its legacy has passed on for years we need to now pass it on to other generations.”
Another aspect of life that needs to be passed down to young children is how division with races can be rooted in racism, which is a learned behavior, she said.
“I think people fail to realize that racism is a learned behavior,” she said. “We aren’t born with it.”
Many children amused themselves with activities at the festival including jumping in bounce houses, shooting water guns and trying to dunk Harry Blakemore, a UNC member, in the dunking booth.
“I’m the gingerbread man catch me if you can,” he teased Payton Mallory, 5, as she stepped closer to the booth to try to hit the release button. When her aim didn’t suffice, she just ran up to the target and pressed it releasing a good-natured Blakemore into the water.
Nearby, Haley Martin watched as her son Christian Bell played with Damion Grissom and Pierre Sears in a colorful blowup house Saturday afternoon. She said she thinks the festival is a good idea because it shows how far African-Americans have come.
“As a mother I think this is a wonderful experience for him to be around other children and I tell him this is the month to celebrate freedom and this is the month to celebrate his race,” Martin said. “His ancestors would have loved to see this happen.”
Another aspect of the festival was assorted booths. At Princess Nikita African Attire, Nikita Goode-Itegbojie had a range of dresses sent straight from Nigeria, the homeland of her husband. He has been in the United States for two years and has helped her get the Dashiki dresses, head wraps and other handmade jewelry that is popular both at her online business on Facebook, and in her store.
“Everything we get is directly from Africa,” Goode-Itebojie said. “He started this business for me and it has been a blessing.”
A domino tournament was held as part of the day’s celebrations. As the rules were called out players vocalized their displeasure about rule changes from the past years -- like not being able to talk during the games without being eliminated. This would take away from some of the trash talking players often enjoy, said Dana Mallory, a UCO member. Mallory was one of the people keeping tabs on the game Saturday.
“I love watching them play dominos,” she said. “It’s excitement and it’s a good competition with everyone trying to keep track of what everyone has. It’s relaxing to me.”
Leticia Joiner of Magnolia won the grand prize last year won again this year with her partner Shakaitlyn Tuner. The pair received $100.
Before the tournament started, Joiner said she learned to play dominos from her father when she was 9 or 10 years-old.
“It’s about strategy, don’t let anything get in your head,” Joiner said. “You have to stay focused the whole game.”
Those who grew hungry during the celebration could choose from fried fish, ribs, hamburgers, pulled pork sandwiches, turkey legs, fried pickles, candy apples, walking tacos and hot dogs.
The annual rib cook-off was also a part of the festivities. Rib cook-off winners include first place and a $200 prize to the Martin Bashers, second place and a $125 prize for Hot Rod Grilling and third prize and a $75 prize to GoLo Jo. The Martin Bashers also won the best appearance prize for how their ribs looked to judges.
Some festival goers enjoyed rib plates which came with baked beans, potato salad, a dessert and drink.