Juneteenth was celebrated in Chestertown the weekend of June 19th and 20th with speeches by Black activists, community members, and organizers in Kent County. June 19, 1865, was the day that Black people who had been enslaved in the United States were emancipated.
The community was called to action by John Queen who is the President of the Black Union of Kent Country. In his speech, Queen described the Five Levels of Empowerment, the Five Levels of Action that community members can take to make change for the Black Lives Matter movement in Kent County.
“Gentrification, miseducation, mass incarceration, lack of access or access to wealth, and police genocide. Those are five issues plaguing the Black community. What’s plaguing the Black community right here in Chestertown is gentrification.” said John Queen. “If you look around right now in down town Chestertown, how many Black faces do we see?” Silence fell over the mostly white crowd.
Queen asked for Chestertown residents to trust one another, and become better allies, and start building relationships to help empower the Black community. “We’re not looking for your applause and your feel-good moments.” he said. “We have to do more as a community.”
The band Dell Foxx Company performed at the park for about 45 minutes while attendees were encouraged to look at the art arranged around the park by a local photographers highlighting the experiences of Black people in the community.
“If you want to help the Black community, build a relationship first” said TKTK to a majority-white group of peaceful protestors in Fountain Park on a warm Friday evening.
The James Taylor Lynching Remembrance Coalition was recognized for doing work in bringing education and awarneness to the Kent Country community. James Taylor was a Black man who was lynched in Chestertown in 1892. “We must first tell the truth about our past so that we can overcome it” said one of the coalition members.
The coalition speakers mentioned the locations of current Chestertown buildings near where James Taylor was lynched to set a scene from 128 years ago for the current Chestertown community.
Tyshawn Johnson, who is better known as Yvng Swag, grew up in Chestertown and became an internet sensation by dancing to country music on Instagram when he was 15 years old.
“Music is what brings us together” he said. “We’re all equal, so we have to come together.” He ended his speech by thanking his parents and everyone else who are raising children now to not judge people for the color of their skin. His documentary, “No Small Town Problems”, is out on Youtube now in four parts.
Gordan Wallace, a 23 year-old Black man who photographed many of the pieces shown at the Juneteenth art exhibit, closed the event with a speech about being a Black man in America.
“Juneteenth — besides all of the celebration — is a day for education” Wallace said. He mentioned a college professor that he had who told him that “winners write history.”
“Become informed, encourage curiosity, and demand answers.” He ended with a quote by W. E. B. Du Boise —“Either America will destroy ignorance, or ignorance will destroy America.”