Philadelphia celebrates Juneteenth with block party, parade, film festival, and more

A person dances in the center of a group of people who also are dancing.

Attendees at the Juneteenth Block Party hosted by the African American Museum in Philadelphia dance to music. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

It was a festive Sunday in Philadelphia, as folks celebrated Juneteenth in several parts of the city.

In Center City, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, or AAMP, hosted a Juneteenth block party where hundreds of people jammed to hip hop and dance classics like “The Wobble” and Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love You.”

The block party was headlined with performances by rapper Talib Kweli and Peabody Award-winning poet, Black Ice.

View of a crowd of people dancing in an open space with buildings in the background.
People gathered for the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s Juneteenth Block Party on June 19, 2022. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

“I think [Juneteenth] is about getting involved with people one-on-one, it’s not just about doing something that we can see externally,” said Nina Elizabeth Ball, the museum’s director of programming and education. “It’s about that inward change that takes place through working with fellow man and community members, members of the African diaspora, specifically, and lifting one another up on a daily basis.”

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Portrait of Nina Elizabeth Ball, smiling, with a Juneteenth Block Party sign in the background.
Nina Elizabeth Ball, director of programming at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, says Juneteenth “is about getting involved with people one-on-one, it’s not just about doing something that we can see externally.” (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

There were also celebrations on the Ben Franklin Parkway, a parade in West Philadelphia, and a walking tour of Laurel Hill Cemetery, where several prominent Black Philadelphians are buried.

“I think that as a non-Black person living in the United States, I think it’s really important that we attend these events because Black history is American history,” said Sandra Mehdian, who celebrated events on the Parkway.

“We have an obligation to learn all the facets of what makes this country what it is. And Black Americans made this country what it is. They’re a central part of it,” Mehdian continued.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates the day that news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reached the last group of enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, according to The Conversation. The proclamation, handed down in January 1863, effectively ended slavery in the United States.

Last June, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday for the first time in American history.

It comes as the nation continues to grapple with its history of racial oppression.

In 2020, the high profile killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor reminded many of, and awakened others to the systemic inequities in America.

At the time, many institutions, corporate and political, promised to reckon with race in a meaningful way.

Two years later, some people who attended celebrations in the City of Brotherly Love said the fight for freedom continues.

“The fight is staying consciously aware, even getting into politics, trying to change the landscape of how politics have revolved around Black people in America…getting people out to vote for the people that represent us,” said JR Burrs, who attended AAMP’s block party.

Close-up of Talib Kweli performing onstage.
Rapper Talib Kweli performs onstage at AAMP’s Juneteenth Block Party. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

Ball echoed Burrs’ statement.

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“Liberation is a mind, body, and soul thing. For me, freedom means being able to move through the world without fear, whether that’s fear of physical death, emotional death, spiritual death, and having autonomy over your own body, and to do with it what you need to do,” Ball said.

AAMP hosted a Juneteenth Block Party on June 19, 2022.
AAMP hosted a Juneteenth Block Party on June 19, 2022. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

Monday, on the official federal holiday, the weekend will be capped off with a Black-led film festival called “United We Heal.”

Ebony Roberts is the film festival’s director.

“It’s a social justice themed short film festival,” Roberts said. “Some of the themes include what people are doing to uplift their communities, as well as some of the trauma that their communities have gone through.”

“United We Heal” takes place from 5 to 10 p.m. at Underground Arts in the city’s Callowhill neighborhood.

“We’ll see some trauma and some hopefulness,” Roberts said.

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