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What to expect this Juneteenth

Creating a safe place to ask the tough questions

June 11th, 2019 2:57 PM

Children play at the Forest Park Aquatic Center in Forest Park during the annual Juneteenth Pool Party. | File 2018

By Tom Holmes

The Juneteenth Pool Party will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on June 15 at the Park District of Forest Park, and Rory Hoskins, the man who started the tradition 11 years ago, will no longer be directly in charge of the community event.

With his responsibilities as mayor filling his appointment book, Hoskins no longer had the time to organize what has become a Forest Park tradition. 

But at a speech at Hope Tabernacle Church in Forest Park on June 9, Hoskins explained to a crowd that on June 19, 1865—a little over two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox—General Gordon Granger led 1,500 Union soldiers into the Galveston, Texas town square and read Presidential Order #3, which declared that all slaves in the former rebel states were now free.

"The day is called Juneteenth," he said, "because up until Presidential Order #3, it was illegal in Texas to teach a slave to read and write, a restriction which almost forced them to speak a dialect other than standard English. Instead of calling the day the 19th of June, therefore, the newly-emancipated slaves called it Juneteenth."

Hope Tabernacle worshippers awarded Hoskins a community service award.

After thanking the congregation, Hoskins stressed that what began over a century and half ago as a black celebration of freedom and a companion to the Fourth of July, is in the process of becoming a truly American holiday. He noted that Juneteenth fits right in with other Forest Park celebrations of ethnic roots, like German Fest and the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

A young performer who calls himself TrillBox AG then rapped about freedom, and Joshua Cousin from the Forest Park-based Just Cause Dancers performed an interpretive dance.  

In addition to the church service, two Forest Park residents, Tandra Rutledge—who also serves as director of business development at Riveredge Hospital—and Marjorie Adam-Clark, have stepped up to co-chair the annual pool party. As in years past, children will play in the pool while adults socialize on the deck and everyone enjoys food from the snack bar.

Adam-Clark said the event is a "safe place to ask the tough questions about slavery in American history" and not feel awkward. She held up the image of a dinner table around which people can enjoy food and let their guard down.

Adam-Clark referred to racism as a "marketing tool" or a narrative that "cannibalizes people groups," and that bringing the whole town together to celebrate a historical event where a group of people learned about their freedom "pushes back on that marketing."

"Juneteenth is a great way to celebrate American—not just African-American—history and diversity in this village," she said. "It's messy in the kitchen but at some point the food is going to come out and it's going to come out good."

Skye Lavin, manager of adult services at the Forest Park Public Library, has also involved the library in gearing up excitement for the event. 

"I dove into FPPL's rich holdings of books on African-American history to spark the Juneteenth Celebration Committee's imagination and further their research," she said. "The library is delighted to be invited to the Juneteenth Picnic on the 15th to share our sack of relevant books, Black History trivia questions, and love for the Forest Park community."  

Cecilia Pina Boyd, the newly-appointed chair of Forest Park's Diversity Commission, urged community members to attend the event on Saturday, saying "it's a reminder of history, and if we don't know our history it's hard to progress forward and know what we should continue to fight for."

Ned Wagner, president of Proviso High Schools District 209 board of education, said he views the pool party as part of a long, ongoing process. 

"To me," he said, "Juneteenth symbolizes our society's dealing with the effect of having an enslaved people in our country. It's a process. It's been hundreds of years and may take hundreds of years more. Juneteenth represents facing this issue with bravery and courage."