Buffalo’s art, music and food scenes are typically well-represented at the city’s numerous summer festivals, and next weekend’s Juneteenth Festival in Martin Luther King Park is no exception. But for the first time, Juneteenth organizers are adding another aspect of Buffalo’s culture – science – after realizing it could help children one day find good jobs without leaving town.
The 38th annual Juneteenth Festival, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, will be held Saturday and next Sunday and will feature a science fair in addition to the usual parade, food and music. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the long-awaited splash pad that recently opened in the park. And the pre-festival week of cultural and educational activities known as Sankofa Days began this weekend.
Festival planners said they added the science fair to raise awareness in the East Side community about the opportunities science education will likely afford Buffalonians in the coming years, offering the expansion of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus as an example.
“One of the purposes of the festival is, we try to serve the needs of the community,” said Marcus Brown, president of the festival’s board of directors. “You have to look at the youth. You have to look at the children who are in school, and you try to bring more things to their attention, especially when you look at the City of Buffalo and you find out what’s happening.”
Brown noted that many high school and college graduates have to leave the area to find decent work, and he hopes science education can change that.
The festival will feature an address from Oneeka Williams, a Boston surgeon, urologist and graduate of Harvard Medical School, and teachers and students from Buffalo Public Schools will perform science experiments, according to Ras Jomo, vice president of Juneteenth’s board of directors. Jomo, a union carpenter, is working on the downtown medical campus expansion, so he sees firsthand the opportunities available to future generations.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap so that by the time they finish high school and college, they will be the prime candidates,” Jomo said.
The annual parade will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Genesee and Moselle streets. It will proceed down Genesee and into the park. The festival will end at 8 p.m. on both days.
Though official attendance numbers aren’t available, last year’s turnout was reportedly down from previous years. But Brown and Jomo think the splash pad and the “Body Worlds” exhibit at the nearby Buffalo Museum of Science will attract more visitors this year. And the festival is on pace to have more vendors – more than 130 – than it had last year, Brown said. Vendors at the festival typically sell traditional African food, jewelry, soap and other items.
Jomo said the neighborhood surrounding the park is becoming more international.
“When the splash pad opened, you could look, and it looked like the United Nations,” he said.
In keeping with that spirit, Brown emphasized that the festival – though it references June 19, 1865, the day the last remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free – is for everybody, not just for African-Americans.
“The Emancipation Proclamation says nothing about color at all,” Brown said. “It freed children of slavery in America for all races. So we can all celebrate it.”
• Today: Instructors will hold workshops on various dances, backed by live music, in Juneteenth Festival Headquarters, 1517 Genesee St.
• Monday: Donisha Prendergast, the eldest grandchild of Bob and Rita Marley, will host a workshop titled “Africa Unites for the 21st Century,” Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson St.
• Tuesday: Em Tea Coffee Cup Cafe will host an open mic for artists and poets. 80 Oakgrove Ave.
• Wednesday: A mental health seminar. Venue to be announced.
• Thursday: Musicians will host a tribute to the many African musicians who have died and left legacies behind. Colored Musicians Club, 145 Broadway.
• Friday: Various local schools will give art and science presentations in a preview of the festival’s science fair at the African-American Corridor, 143 Broadway.