Mayfield Drive-In Juneteenth Celebration a Hit
IT’S JUST UNDERSTANDING FREEDOM FOR US ISN’T JULY 4TH. FREEDOM FOR US IS JUNETEENTH. – CANDISS BOLDEN
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, honors June 19, 1865, when word finally reached Galveston, Texas, the Civil War had ended and all enslaved African Americans were free.
While Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863, Texas continued to practice slavery until union troops could enforce the order — two months after the Civil War ended and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
Yet, most people probably did not learn about Juneteenth in their U.S. history class.
Natalie Rondo recognized the importance, as a parent, to educate her son on the day as the family celebrated Juneteenth at the Mayfield Road Drive-In Theater in Munson Township Friday.
“They don’t teach Juneteenth in school, so if we’re not teaching our kids about this, they won’t learn,” Rondo said. “It’s something everybody should know.”
The drive-in celebration was organized by The Real Black Friday, an organization that promotes and celebrates Black-owned businesses in Cleveland. For the past seven years, they have put on business expos in August with vendors and performances. Last year’s expo saw 5,000 attendees.
But with the novel coronavirus pandemic rendering large, tightly-packed crowds unsafe, LaRese Purnell, the founder of The Real Black Friday, decided to capitalize on the natural social distancing of a drive-in theater to continue the celebration.
The event featured Black-owned food trucks, live music, movie showings and fireworks.
Rondo grew up in Chagrin Falls Park, where she said there used to be huge Juneteenth celebrations with attendees from across the state.
“We had one every year growing up and the tradition just kind of fell away,” Rondo said. “I was just excited to see that it was here.”
The first The Real Black Friday Business Expo was held at The Word Church, where Quevetta Tinsley first volunteered for the organization. She is now the event administrator at The Real Black Friday.
As the expos gained more traction, they outgrew the church and moved to Edgewater Park. The past two years, the event has been held in downtown Cleveland and had over 250 vendors present in 2019, Tinsley said.
While it was The Real Black Friday’s first Juneteenth celebration, Tinsley said this year’s success could make the event annual.
“It was like a big family reunion,” she said.
This year’s celebration, free to the public, had around 350 cars registered. To attend, individuals needed to register for a ticket. An hour after the celebration was announced, it was sold out.
Purnell said the Mayfield drive-in staff was extremely supportive, which made preparing for the event easy. He also knew the drive-in hosted graduations this year, so the staff was experienced with handling a large crowd safely.
The drive-in concessions only sold popcorn to encourage patronage to the food trucks. Attendees could choose from Dave’s Place or Mallory’s Fish Hut for a meal, Lemy & Nades or Fawaky Burst for a drink, and the Ice Bucket for dessert.
Crystal Idley, at The Ice Bucket, said it was the first time the truck, which opened three weeks a ago, served at an event.
The Ice Bucket serves ice cream, shaved ice and sherbet shakes. Idley said a family member knew Purnell, which is how they got connected to the Juneteenth celebration.
Lemy & Nades sells Candiss Bolden’s family recipe for lemonade. But it’s more than just selling lemonade.
Bolden explained the company doubles as a mentorship program called Gumii Gang.
“A lot of times, young girls don’t really have that confidence to go out and present themselves, so I give them the opportunity to do that,” Bolden said.
Gumii Gang teaches entrepreneurial skills and allows networking to help build confidence.
Lemy & Nades offers four flavors: regular lemonade, white peach, mango and strawberry. The company also sells online in bulk orders and does catering events.
Last Friday’s celebration included a variety of live music, such as Archie Green and Da Land Brass Band.
William “Bowtie” Washington, who plays the trombone for Da Land Brass Band, said it was the first time the band played together in four months.
Despite the time away from each other, the band invoked the feeling of New Orleans streets through their music —in tune with the band’s starting vision from six years ago.
“We wanted to bring New Orleans to Cleveland,” Washington said. “We wanted to do it by supporting others and showing art in every community we can.”
Washington said there was a learning curve with navigating the space between cars. He also found himself walking ahead of the other band members as he wasn’t slowed down by a dense crowd.
Da Land Brass Band plays for events and fundraisers and teaches music to kids in school who can’t afford lessons.
“We try to inspire a passing down of musical lineage,” Washington said.
The 22-total band members come from all across Northeast Ohio from a wide variety of professions. About seven members played at the Juneteenth celebration.
Washington said the band likes to hear about events through word-of-mouth and “surprise” the crowd.
“We like to make sure you never see us until it starts. That’s the whole point, the surprise,” Washington said.
Next to the drive-in screen and stage, attendees could visit the Cleveland Cavaliers truck, which distributed miniature Cleveland signs, Cavs backpacks and hats to both parents and children.
Corey James, the director of diversity, inclusion and community engagement for the Cavs, explained why it was important for them to be present.
“The reason the Cavs shows its support today is because we have an ongoing relationship with The Real Black Friday. We know the importance to create economic impact and development within the African American community, and that’s what The Real Black Friday is all about,” James said.
He added the Cavs try to maintain a presence in the community at similar events.
“And it’s Juneteenth. It’s a holiday that we support as an organization,” James said. “All of our team members have the day off today.”
One attendee, Shantae Lipscomb, is a serial entrepreneur who has been a vendor at The Real Black Friday events before.
“It’s always a good time, music going, family friendly atmosphere, good food,” Lipscomb said.
Her latest venture is opening her own Roll On In Sushi, Burritos & Bowls in Cuyahoga Falls while working as a teacher for the Cleveland Municipal School District.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lipscomb expects to open in 30 to 45 days.
As a teacher, she said she recognized the importance of educating about Juneteenth.
“We’re stronger together and know your history so you don’t repeat it,” Lipscomb said.
Bolden emphasized the historical significance of the day.
“Have an understanding for yourself, to understand that Juneteenth is not just another day for us. It’s the day we actually had the privilege of not being slaves,” Bolden said. “It’s just understanding freedom for us isn’t July 4th. Freedom for us is Juneteenth.
“We love this country, too, but unfortunately, there were times where this country didn’t love us back,” she continued. “It’s more than just a day … really understand our culture and love our culture as much as you love the United States and the flag.”
On Juneteenth, The Real Black Friday unveiled their new website that hosts a catalogue of Black-owned businesses in the Cleveland area. Purnell encouraged everyone with a Black-owned business to register and be intentional with where they spend their money.