Juneteenth In Queens brings joy, and fun festivities to St. Albans

Hundreds of southeastern Queens residents filled Roy Wilkins Park for the 4th annual Juneteenth in Queens Festival.
Photo by Athena Dawson

Hundreds of southeastern Queens residents participated in a day filled with joy, fun, and food at the 4th annual Juneteenth in Queens Celebration at Roy Wilkins Park, located in St. Albans, on Wednesday, June 19.

The event, hosted by Tunisia Morrison, co-founder of the Voice of Youth Changes Everything Inc. (V.O.Y.C.E.), brought the community together for a day of celebration and remembrance of the historic holiday. Local BIPOC-owned business owners and sponsored partners held an array of activities and had items for attendees of all ages to purchase and enjoy. 

In 2020, legislation introduced in part by local Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman was passed to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday. The holiday holds historical and cultural significance to the African-American community as it commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. after the Civil War. 

Elected officials, including Governor Kathy Hochul, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, were in attendance at the event. Speaker Adams wowed the large crowd with her performance of a church hymnal on the festival stage. After her brief performance, she urged festival goers to feel proud of their African-American ancestry and to keep advocating for equity within their communities. 

“I have to tell you that it is a fight no matter what corner we stand in as Black people, the first people that came out of the cradle of civilization. It is still a fight for us in every single corner of those that still can consider you and I the minority,” she said. “Let’s celebrate Juneteenth like you’ve never celebrated it before.  It’s freedom now, freedom tomorrow, freedom forever! “

Following Speaker Adams’s powerful statement, Borough President Richards also took the stage to greet the crowd. Richards’ tone was political, as he spoke about the upcoming presidential election and key issues affecting the Black community that are at stake. 

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards urges the crowd to vote this election cycle.Photo by Athena Dawson

“Civil rights, economic development, human rights, election rights—on the ballot. There are people who want to strip our ability to vote,” he said. Richard’s speech was met with a resounding ‘yes’ from the crowd as they cheered him on. 

Governor Hochul shared that the yearly celebration allows residents to reflect on the struggles of their ancestors and continue their legacy of fighting for personal freedoms. Hochul said she was very proud to sign the John B. Lewis Voting Rights Law, which was put into effect to “remove all the barriers that people put in place to stop us from voting.” 

She also echoed Richards’ views on pushing the community to get out and vote in the presidential election this November. “They want you to stay home. They want to make it so hard to say it’s just not worth it. We have early voting. We have mail-in voting. We have in-person voting. You have no excuses, my friends,” she said. 

Hochul also shared that the New York State Commission on African American History received 16 million dollars that will be given to cultural organizations and schools to promote the learning of African American cultural identity and history. 

Governor Hochul greets Southeastern Queens residents at the 4th annual Juneteenth in Queens Celebration. Photo by Athena Dawson.

Following the elected officials’ speeches, Morrison thanked the crowd for their support and shared that her time previously working with Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman inspired her to create the festival.

“ We found out doing marches with young people that they did not know what Juneteenth was, that they had never celebrated it before and didn’t understand that moment in legislation and history is literally what is guiding the rest of their lives,” she said.  Morrison also brought onto the stage Dr. Julius Winston Garvey, son of famed Jamaican-born Black Nationalist and Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey.

Residents dressed up in festive colors and costumes to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. Photo by Athena Dawson

Many residents were in bright spirits throughout the day-long festivities, which featured an array of fun interactive activities, delicious foods, and entertaining performances. 

Kim Warren, a long-time Southeastern Queens resident, said she felt it was important to celebrate the holiday in its early stages of country-wide recognition. “It’s important that we come and celebrate this day… a lot of people have fought for this holiday and it is in its beginning stages. There are forces out there that are trying to keep us from not celebrating… so they need to know that we take [Juneteenth] seriously.” she said. 

Festival goers double Dutch during the event. Photo by Athena Dawson

“We’re celebrating our people… although we are still struggling to take our rightful place at the table, it allows us to build together as a community, a community coming out to celebrate us, ” said festival-goer Martiza Jones. 

Younger community members, including college student Nevaeh Gayle, came to the festival to not only celebrate but promote civic engagement. “ We are actually promoting people to vote for Cassandra Johnson, a supreme court judge running for surrogate court,” Gayle said. “Juneteenth to me, the history may not be so great, but people are coming together to celebrate the positive outcome of the holiday and remind us how far Black people have come.”

Festival goers were delighted to try delicious codfish fritters from MumsKitchens Inc.Photo by Athena Dawson

Festival-goers were eager to support the dozens of local small businesses selling items at the event. Many community members stood in a lengthy line for Jamaican jerk chicken and rice and peas from Bigg Boy Master Griller and Catering, while others enjoyed delicious codfish fritters from MumsKitchen NYC. 

Jerk chicken from Big Boyy Master Grilling and Catering was heavily in demand at the festival. Photo by Athena Dawson

Those looking for southern soul food headed to Gretel and Sons for plates filled with delectable menu items. “We used to live in this neighborhood, moved to Long Island, and started our family-owned restaurant, and we decided to go back to our roots and come to Queens,” said Christian Saunders, who works at the family-owned restaurant.  

Residents picked up some sweet treats from Custom Cakes By Giselle, founded by Giselle Rodriguez. Rodriguez said this year was her second time at the annual Juneteenth in Queens Celebration. “I came out last year for the first time to see what the atmosphere was like… so this year I was like, of course I’ll do it again. I’m a home baker, and I do custom cakes and events like this over the summer,” she said. 

Family-owned restaurant Gretel and Sons served delectable soul food at the event. Photo by Athena Dawson

Besides delicious food, there were a number of small businesses that provided custom clothing, paintings, and other specialty products. 

Over the past three years, Elisha Turner has showcased her brand, I Am Rose, at the annual festival. “I personally love my brand and I wanted to showcase my brand in the black community and my own community. I actually grew up here going to Roy Wilkins [park]. I was a Roy kid and camp counselor here, Turner said.

Turner sells bonnets, Du-rags, and apparel and has recently branched out into launching her own makeup brand, she said. Turner added that she loves the fact that the celebration showcases the vibrant southeastern Queens community.

Elisha Turner, founder of I Am Rose, showcased her brand at the Juneteenth in Queens festival. Photo by Athena Dawson

Adriane Greene, a first-time festival visitor, was all smiles as she sold t-shirts from Revive Clothing Brand, created by the King of Kings Foundation. “This is our 10th anniversary. We sell our t-shirts and have a cancer walk, and we sell the t-shirts to help cancer survivors who can’t pay their bills. We started this clothing brand because people are going through all kinds of different things,”  she said.  

“This is a great opportunity for small Black businesses to be together, to bring the Black community together and lift and inspire each other,” Greene said.

Hope Atkins, founder of Painting With Hope, shared her passion for her innovative mobile paint and sip business with festival goers. “It’s a traveling art studio that comes to you. I’ve taught paint and sip classes for about 5 years, and I decided to do it on my own.  I just hit a year with my business last month,” Atkins said.