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Collinsville celebrates Juneteenth

Miss Illinois Juneteenth and members of the Black Student Union pose under the Juneteenth flag in Collinsville at the Juneteenth Festival, (Photo by Devese “Dee”Ursery)

By Devese “Dee” Ursery

Collinsville High School Black Student Union held its third annual Juneteenth Festival this weekend, an event to help promote understanding of African-American culture and bring awareness of the meaning behind the federal holiday. 

Students from BSU held a fun-filled, family-friendly event to celebrate freedom. The Juneteenth Festival featured activities for the smaller children on Saturday in Woodland Park. The Monday holiday featured more activities for teenagers and the older crowd.

The festival was sponsored, planned and put together solely by BSU members. JoAnna Kelly, sponsor of the BSU said hosting Juneteenth festivities locally has always been dear to her. 

“Collinsville is a city that loves to celebrate its citizens,” Kelly said. “The city hosts major events for Italian Fest, Fourth of July and other holidays. The importance of making sure all citizens are celebrated is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.”              

US President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth as a federal holiday in June of 2021. The holiday draws its name from June 19, as that was the day the last of enslaved African-Americans, in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom following the Civil War.  

The holiday is also a time to celebrate African-American culture and the struggle of Black Americans for civil rights in America, as well as their many contributions to our nation. 

During the festivities Monday, the BSU organized dance groups and poets to entertain and inform those in attendance. Festival-goers also barbecued and played games, adding to the festive atmosphere. Vendors were also on hand to exhibit wares and mingle with the community. 

Amaris Triplett, author of I Love being Brown seated with her daughter enjoyed the festivities at the Juneteenth Festival, (Photo by Devese “Dee” Ursery)

Renee Kurtz of Collinsville owns Color Street, which features a line of fingernail care products and accessories. She was at the event to show her work and new products, but also to support her friends in the community on the holiday. 

“I just love supporting my friends,” Kurtz said. “I am a school counselor at Collinsville High School and James and JoAnna are my friends and I work with them closely. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I love the diversity and I just wanted to show my support.” 

Miss Juneteenth Kayla Gerhardt was in attendance at the festivities. She told the Times-Tribune she was very happy to see the many people in attendance and having a good time on the holiday. 

Miss Illinois Juneteenth, Kayla Gerhardt, sings for the crowd at the Juneteenth Festival, (Photo by Devese “Dee” Ursery)

“I’m very happy,” Gerhardt said. “I like seeing people come together as one. There is a lot going on. When we have get-togethers like this it makes me happy. Juneteenth is important to me because we never got a say so as African-Americans. I feel like it’s hard being an African-American, so it’s important to me because we are surviving.” 

Ember Breeding is a student at Collinsville High School and a member of the BSU. She said the event is a great opportunity for the community to learn and bring attention to Black culture and the ongoing fight for equity. 

“The Juneteenth celebration, to me, is really a great way for a town like Collinsville, which is predominantly white, to bring attention to the Black and African-American people here,” Breeding said. It shows everybody we are here and this is our culture.”



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