Pittsburghers are celebrating Juneteenth with three days of free events open to the public in honor of the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of Black enslaved people at the end of the Civil War. The Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Homecoming Celebration, produced by Stop the Violence Pittsburgh, kicked off on Friday and continues through Sunday, featuring local and national Black vendors, a parade, food, music, arts, and more.
“For starters, I want people to know that this holiday is to celebrate Black people, but it is for everyone,” says William Marshall, Stop the Violence founder and organizer. “There have been a lot of tragedies. The killing of Black people and the loss of two family members is too much. That’s why we have this event. We want to bring communities together.”
Participating vendors told Pittsburgh City Paper on Friday that they appreciate the business the event brings but said they also looked forward to building connections.
Michelle Moses, co-owner of Sherry’s Family Market, a Black-owned East Pittsburgh convenience store that specializes in soul food, says she’s looking to make a difference in her community.
“This restaurant is named after my mother, and she is the reason why my family opened the business. She worked three jobs to take care of us and we wanted to give her the opportunity to retire,” says Moses. “We provide food, but we really love giving back to the community by doing toy drives, school drives, and showing up to community events. We want Black people to know that they don’t have to live check to check.”
While Sherry’s Family Market fills bellies, Juneteenth vendor The Social Butterfly Experience fills the minds. Led by owner Aijalon Brown, the local business aims to “educate people about mental health and the importance of positive well-being and uplift anyone suffering from mental health issues,” according to its website.
“I have been going to therapy for years. I was able to realize that I wasn’t feeling even though people thought that I had everything together,” Brown tells City Paper. “I want African Americans to know that there are resources and other people like you out there.”
Grizzled Teddy Co., a grooming company dedicated to helping men “groom their hearts, minds, and beards,” traveled to the city from Indiana, Pa. for the event.
“For so long, we are told that men are supposed to be providers and pillars in their community,” says Donovan Daniel, co-owner of Grizzled Teddy Co. “But how can you protect and take care of someone if you don’t take care of yourself?”
On Saturday, more than 2,000 people gathered for a Juneteenth Parade from Freedom Corner in the Hill District to the festivities at Point State Park. The parade served as a re-enactment of the 1870 Grand Jubilee of Freemen Parade in Pittsburgh and the 1914 Women’s Sufferage Parade, with participants including Cease Fire PA, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers, and a large variety of local Black organizations.
Fro Gang Foundation, a South Side nonprofit with a mission to create positive self-images for Black girls across Pittsburgh, was one of the groups in attendance. Fro Gang has free Black baby doll giveaways for girls in need, as well as mentoring programs for youth, field trips, and more.
“Black girls need to recognize their self-worth and see beauty when they look in the mirror, says Kelli Shakur, founder of Fro Gang. “The goal is to make Black girls know that they can love their hair and be unapologetically Black, period.”
Delta Sigma Theta sorority waved their banner in support of Juneteenth, hoping to bring attention to what they do for the community. The Pittsburgh chapter of the Black alumni sorority started at the University of Pittsburgh, but now also serves counties surrounding Pittsburgh. They have a scholarship opportunity and youth programming for African American communities in Pittsburgh, with a focus on Black girls.
“There is a lot of violence going on and there are a lot of disadvantages,” says Anita Walker, president of Delta Sigma Theta. “There is a study saying that Black women are not thriving in Pittsburgh, and we are here to change that.”
Delta Sigma Theta member Vale Njie adds that their goal is to both support the community and introduce them to new opportunities. “Schools today continue to make it feel like it’s college or bust,” Njie says. “Meanwhile, there are trades and business opportunities. Juneteenth is about celebrating a moment in history, but it is also about moving forward from it, too.”
Juneteenth events will continue on Sunday. Marshall hopes that what people take away from this event are things to think about.
“We got to make sure that we understand that we are the foundation of American society,” says Marshall. “Unity, solidarity, and appreciation for yourself and other cultures is a step in the right direction.”
WPA Juneteenth Homecoming Celebration. Continues through Sun., June 19. Point State Park, Downtown. Free. wpajuneteenth.com