Juneteenth celebrated with Black Business Explosion
Jessica Anders
July/August 1999

What were you doing June 19th?

We were celebrating an all too uncommon event in the black community of Gainesville. More than 500 people of all ages, races and ethnic groups gathered at the Martin Luther King Center to enjoy what turned out to be the only day without rain that week! What was being celebrated? Several things, the first was Juneteenth Celebration. In recognition of the day that slaves in Galveston Texas were informed (two years after the Emancipation Proclamation) that slavery had been abolished. In honor of this, jazz groups, Christian rappers, African drummers and a wide range of talent performed on the sound stage outside of the Center.

Inside the Center over 50 Black owned or operated businesses showed off their wares for Black Business Explosion. In conjunction with BBE, a well attended business workshop was held in the morning for young black people to learn about the ins and outs of business operation. The highlight proved to be the Soul Food Corner, a part of BBE that was dedicated to the food vendors. Everything from traditional soul food like fried fish and chicken to Caribbean cuisine was available throughout the day.

At the front of the Center a large tent was set up to exhibit anti-tobacco messages and games for the kids to enjoy. Youth Jam, as this section was called, allowed kids to take part in face painting, creating a mural and carnival games all while learning about the dangers of cigarette smoking.

In total, Juneteenth Celebration was an extremely successful event. The crowd was greeted with an organized group of workers and volunteers of all ages and an air of professionalism permeated the event. It is not the culmination of Juneteenth that I would like to focus on here. How these types of gatherings are set up is something that people often forget in the wake of such resounding success.

Plans for Juneteenth/BBE began in January. Money and publicity were the biggest concerns for the project. Being awarded the Tobacco Grant allowed COPC to really target the children and parents since the parents had a way to entertain the children as they perused the business expo. Donations and in-kind trades made the rest of the event economically feasible.

Publicity was the big question. What is the best way to get the word out to the Black community in Gainesville? COPC immediately contacted Magic 101.3 who offered to co-sponsor the event and do a few 30-second blurbs on their radio station. Information for the Week in Reveiw and the Scene was sent into the Gainesville Sun before the scheduled deadline, but was never published by the Sun. However, the Sun did publish a short article on the event in the Business section on June 19th an even shorter follow-up article. Mahogany Reveiw has been advertising for BBE since March and Cox 8 and UF's electronic billboard also held advertisments closer to the event. Flyers were put up in most Black churches in Gainesville and the rest went by word of mouth.

Business owners who had booths at the Expo were asked about their immpressions of the event and asked about improvements they would like to see made in the future. All interveiwees commented on the superb organization of the event and in the next breath asked why there had not been more publicity.

Instead of more publicity it seems that what was required was more outward support from high profile community leaders. Several gospel choirs were asked to sing for Juneteenth. Only one group called back, and they were not able to come. Other community leaders were asked to speak or perform ceremonial duties during the Expo, COPC was turned down. Word of mouth is one of the strongest if not the most powerful forces of publicity in the Black community. Without the full support of Black leaders and church groups, the Black community cannot reach its full potential. This event was a great sucess by anyone's standards, imagine how much more it will be when there is full support from all sections of the Black community.

If you would like to volunteer for other COPC programs/events call 395-7022 (Michele Carodine).

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