Evanston Present and Future founder Kemone Hendricks stood at the entrance to the Levy Senior Center parking lot cheering on more than 100 cars in the Juneteenth Car Parade, as they reached the end of the parade route on June 27. Drivers honked their horns and passengers waved from open windows as they turned in to the parking lot to hear brief remarks from Ms. Hendricks, who organized the parade, and Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons.

Cars had lined up starting at 9 a.m. in the Evanston Township High School parking lots, and at 10 a.m. the parade headed east Church Street, and then south on Dodge Avenue to the Levy Center. Many were decorated with Evanston Juneteenth Parade flags and signs, Black Lives Matter signs and colorful balloons.

Residents stood on sidewalks along the parade route, waving and holding up signs in support of Juneteenth, the annual holiday that marks June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Texas to inform America’s remaining slaves that they were free people. The notification was given two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

            As cars pulled in to alternating parking spaces of the Levy Center, Ms. Hendricks stood in the lot, bullhorn in hand, leading the enthusiastic crowd in a chant, “All things, Juneteenth.’ Horns blared as people waved from their car windows or stood up out of their sun roof. DJ Johnny Price provided music and raised the energy level on a warm sunny morning. Many participants remained in their cars with windows rolled down, as suggested by event organizers to help ensure that the outdoor gathering was as safe as possible amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Those who got out of their cars wore masks.

            “I am so excited that today was able to happen. Thank you to the Levy Center,” said Ms. Hendricks. She invited Ald. Rue Simmons to make remarks.

“I have to start with thanks to Kemone Hendricks. Kemone has snapped this Juneteenth. Thank you for your enthusiasm, and your excellence and your collaborative spirit.  And then thank you to everyone else here…I’m so grateful for our allies and our Evanstonians that stand with Black lives. I’m so hopeful for the Black experience in Evanston. I appreciate everyone that has stood behind Kemone, and that has learned abut Juneteenth. …Thank you to our leaders and other organizational leaders that stand up.”

Elected officials that participated in the parade included Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward; State Senator Laura Fine and State Representatives Robyn Gabel and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz.

The three state legislators traveled together in a parade car.

“We heard about (the parade) and we said, ‘We want to support it.’ We’re working in Springfield. …The Black Caucus along with their colleagues, us, are demanding funds for Black communities to be able to lift them up, and we want to be part of it. We’re doing a direct ask to the Governor, so as things progress, we’ll let you know. It will come out in all our newsletters. It’s just the beginning. It’s just the first volley here,” Rep. Gabel told the RoundTable.

“We’re looking at everything now, from transportation to underserved communities, to employment, to housing. We’re really looking at everything from the ground up. This is a movement that woke everybody up to what needs to get done. And we’re going to get it done,” said Sen Laura Fine.

The Juneteenth Car Parade came toward the end of a month-long series of Juneteenth events hosted by Evanston Present and Future. A week earlier, on June 19, the nonprofit organization hosted a virtual parade that residents could stream on the event’s webpage. Bon Events, a local event planning company, worked with nonprofits to support the mostly online celebration.

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.