How to celebrate Juneteenth in Portage County this year

Kent will be the site of two Juneteenth celebrations this year, one sponsored by the South End Juneteenth Committee June 19 at Plum Creek Park and another hosted by Kent State University June 18.

The South End Juneteenth Committee’s event, Kent’s First Annual Juneteenth Celebration, is a day-long extravaganza that will include a parade, games, awards, food and a movie.

The parade will feature families walking behind youths carrying a Historic South End banner and will proceed along Dodge and Cedar streets, then down Cherry Street to Plum Creek Park. Parade participants should meet at the Kent Rec Center on Franklin Avenue at 11:30 a.m.

To honor Father’s Day, which this year is also on June 19, youth are invited to walk with their fathers in the parade. However, all are welcome to join because, as committee adviser Fanette Merrett says, “everybody’s got a daddy.”

In keeping with the day’s theme of honoring generations of legacy, Merrett said Unsung Moments of Honor awards will be distributed to community elders, and Future Leader Recognition awards will be presented to younger community members.

Because some of the awards will come as a surprise, honorees’ names are not being released ahead of time.

Kent’s Juneteenth celebration will include a gospel hour with mini-sermon by minister Melanie McNeil and the Akron Freedom Recovery Choir Ministry.

Also participating will be youth from Ravenna’s United Church of Jesus Christ. Local author Jackie Peoples Dukes will read excerpts from her book, “South End Serenade.”

Children will enjoy an egg race, three-legged race and a cake walk, with winners receiving prizes. Trophies will also be awarded to the winners of a kickball game pitting Kent fire and police personnel against community members.

There will be music and complementary food throughout the day as well as local vendors selling their wares. The day will end with a viewing of “Johnson Family Vacation,” a 2004 comedy starring Cedric the Entertainer, Vanessa Williams, Bow Wow and others.

The South End Juneteenth Committee has rented Plum Creek Park for the entire day. Police will be on hand to ensure security.

Knowing that Plum Creek Park has been the site of two unexpected popup events, Parks Director Angela Manley said she is thrilled that the committee is organizing a Father’s Day/Juneteenth festival.

“They’ve spent the past year organizing an event and putting together a really nice itinerary. We’re proud that the Historic South End wanted to celebrate in their park. That park is in their neighborhood, and we’re thrilled that they thought of us to use that park for that celebration,” she said.

Parks employees will work their regular morning maintenance schedule and will not be on hand for the event, she said.

Kent police did not respond to a request for comment.

Kent State’s Juneteenth celebration, meanwhile, will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 18 on campus at Manchester Field. The event will include live performances, music, vendors, food trucks, head-wrapping demonstrations and more.

The schedule for the KSU event includes:

  • Poet Mwatabu Okantah and friends, featuring keyboardist Vince Robinson, at noon
  • A head-wrapping demonstration presented by Ellipsis Institute for Women of Color in the Academy at 12:30
  • ZUMBA/dance fitness group NOLA Movement at 1 p.m.
  • Rapper/singer/producer Chelsea Pastel at 2 p.m.
  • Dayton Contemporary Dance Company at 3 p.m.
  • Kent State University Jazz Ensemble, led by Ronell Regis, at 3:30 p.m.
  • Traditional Luo tribal musical ensemble Kenge Kenge Orutu System at 4 p.m.
  • Rapper Archie Green/Peel Dem Layers Back at 5 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.

Additionally, the KSU Museum will present “Textures: The History and Art of Black Hair,” from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 18. Tickets are $4-$6. The museum is located at 515 Hilltop Drive.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.