Our free and inclusive Juneteenth Ride this coming Monday, June 21st (6:30pm start from Je Ne Sais Quoi, 1633 Hertel Ave), marks our annual collaboration with Juneteenth of Buffalo including a stop at their headquarters at Genesee and Moselle, which welcomes the community with programming year-round, much more than just the big festival and parade it presents each June, “to actively preserve and promote the broad spectrum of African American Heritage through educational and cultural activities that will benefit the community as a whole.”

Learn more below and in-person on Monday from Juneteenth of Buffalo’s Dayatra Hassan.

How has the transition been to a virtual Juneteenth Festival?

The transition has been incredibly challenging to go to virtual. With all the restrictions we’ve had, it sounded like an impossible feat to reduce the festival crowd that’s been tens of thousands of people throughout the weekend. We have folks who’ve been doing the festival on the ground for decades, they’re experts at it, and now there’s a new platform to tackle, so the younger folks have stepped up to make sure Juneteenth has what it needs. Last year we focused more on social media, now we have a new website.

We’ve blessed and supported other smaller Juneteenth events on the ground, such as The FreeThem Walk, a really powerful movement of people from Buffalo and beyond who walked all the way from Virginia up to Buffalo through the route of the Underground Railroad.

We’re continuing to encourage support of Black businesses through BuyBlackBuffalo.com, where businesses can register. And we still have activities at the Juneteenth headquarters all year-round in addition to the festival, such as our “Africa: Gift to the World” tour throughout building with artifacts and art, which is free, we just ask to register on our website.

We have a lot to celebrate, and we have a long way to go – and we’re going to celebrate along the way. Juneteenth of Buffalo has been leading the local Juneteenth effort for 46 consecutive years, and we’re so excited to continue the tradition.

How has Juneteenth of Buffalo embraced the new Juneteenth events that have popped up this year?

We want people to celebrate wherever you are! As long as folks are staying safe. The festival at Johnnie B. Wiley and parade on Jefferson Ave, these events aren’t events run by our organization, however we want people to celebrate wherever you are.

One of the things the public should know is that Juneteenth of Buffalo is a nonprofit organization, so it’s different for us to do a festival or an event than it would be for an individual – we have a different level of responsibility to our community. We’re happy to bring Juneteenth to folks virtually – we did what we had to do make it happen, and at the same time, we wanna have a barbecue, we wanna have a parade, too, so if we as a community can make it happen in a way that’s safe and secure and adhering to the rules, we support that. Stay safe, stay in the spirit of unity.

We need unity now more than ever. They’re talking reparations on the senate floor, making Juneteenth a national holiday – so many things happening that 10 years ago we wouldn’t imagine. This is a great time to celebrate, and we want people to show love and unity in every way – clean up your neighborhood, take care of somebody who can’t do for themselves, show the unity our ancestors want us to show. I’m thinking about our ancestors who walked up here form the south – what would they want us to do? How they want us to be acting? It’s a sacred African tradition to honor our ancestors; if we keep that in mind, we’ll be alright.

Beyond the festival, what other Juneteeth of Buffalo programs are you excited about?

We’re building a Juneteenth boat with the Buffalo Maritime Center down at Canalside that started inside of our building. The symbolism of this boat is really touching back into to our original trauma, which was coming here on those boats – most Black folks I know stay as far away from boats as they possibly can, and to this day, a lot of Black folks don’t even swim. To me, that speaks to a deep trauma, and to me, to move toward healing, we wanna get back in that water, so it’s powerful to put the boat in the water at the site where Black Joe Hodge worked in Irving, Sunset Bay Beach.

It’s an amazing thing to build something with your hands and use it, been so powerful and inspiring to build this boat and work with the Maritime Center where they’re pouring metal, working with their hands – we want to bring those things into our community.

What are you looking forward to on Slow Roll’s Juneteenth route this year?

The stops at the Juneteenth headquarters and Freedom Wall conjure up our whole heritage; Buffalo was the last stop on the Underground Railroad before freedom in Canada, and some of us settled here.

I think of the history of Black Joe Hodge, the first Black man to settle in this area and engage in business and commerce. I think of the Talented Tenth out of Niagara Falls in the early 1900s, whose work was resourced for the civil rights movement. So, when we look at this history from our ancestors’ bare feet to the courthouses to the present, it’s just so powerfully energetic right now, you can feel that energy moving us forward. It’s almost like all of the work our ancestors did is coming to fruition – all those faces on the Freedom Wall, all that lifetime commitment to justice and freedom, those are the folks we think about and honor as we move forward with love and justice.