LISC National
Our Stories

Free and Clear; The Evolution of Juneteenth

Photo credit: Mayor Byron Brown

Juneteeth is widely known as the celebration of emancipation from forced slavery. Juneteenth of Buffalo is one of the longest running Juneteenth celebrations in the country. Started in 1976 as a culturally relevant alternative to the country’s Bicentennial Celebration, 2020 marks the 45th consecutive year of this celebration. But what does this celebration mean for Buffalo and for the people of Western New York?

According to festival organizer and board member, Jomo Akono, this festival speaks to every aspect of Black Buffalo. It unites religious lines. It unites ethnic lines. It unites geographic lines. This festival and the initiatives surrounding it expand and repair relationships; bridging culture gaps, and uniting the Black community.

Partnered with the event, which typically boasts a weekend of live music on three stages, a large scale parade, education opportunities for kids and families, and lots of food, is Sankofa Days. “Sankofa” is a Ghanaian term that means go back, fetch, and return.

Sankofa Days have been celebrated locally for the past 15 years. Sankofa supports the idea that Black people were around before the days of slavery, and it’s up to our community to open new lines of thinking. We need to educate each other by going back more than 400 years ago, fetching the stories of Black people, and bringing it back to modern day livelihood. Akono notes the popular 1619 project.

“People don’t realize Black people were doing things before that” Akono states. “BC stands for Before Captivity. Before Colonialism. Before captivity, we were African. We had families. We had empires.”

If there were three things Akono wants people to know about what Juneteenth means to him, and to our community, they are:

For the first time in 45 years, Buffalo’s Juneteenth festival is moved to an online platform. They have an online line up for Sankofa Days and the Maafa Memorial (a remembrance of the African Americans lives lynched and murdered before and after enslavement) between June 1 and June 22, 2020, with full days of virtual activities and events on Festival weekend, June 13-14, 2020.

LISC WNY looks forward to building stronger relationships with the Juneteenth celebration and its partners. We are proud of Juneteenth’s strength and importance in Buffalo, and nationally. We recognize Juneteenth of Buffalo as an important leader for community resilience and neighborhood revitalization.

Juneteenth of Buffalo Website
Juneteenth of Buffalo Facebook Page