The community packed the Joliet Area Historical Museum on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time since it became an official federal holiday.
Theme for “Juneteenth in Joliet” was “On a Mission from God.”
The event featured gospel music and “words of faith,” vendor booths, a showcase of entrepreneurial Black women and two panel discussions: “Minding Her Own Black Owned Business” and “The Intersection of Law, Education & Black Culture.”
Coordinator was Toni Greathouse of Joliet, an entrepreneurial evangelist who saw the Juneteenth event as a way for people to see past their “hidden biases that are like a minefield” because no two people have the same experiences, she said.
“The problem is that we’re no longer talking to each other. We’re talking about each other,” Greathouse said. “This event was created to bring diverse people together, face-to-face, so they could start talking to each other, to see each other’s commonalities, no matter what race we are.”
Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, said Juneteenth is an opportunity for people to learn from each other and was proud the museum could acknowledge that as co-sponsor.
“We want that kind of representation at the museum,” Peerbolte said.
Rev. Elmer Harris of Second Baptist Church, led the opening prayer. Second Baptist Church was established in 1880 and is known as the oldest African American Church in Joliet.
Harris asked God to bless everyone present at the event and thanked God for his mercy and grace and felt that moving forward was about “coming out of our shell, taking off our mask and becoming who God intended us to be.”
Teen entrepreneur Zoey Bishop, a creator of lip products and body butter, spoke about her desire to leave “an amazing legacy to future generations” through her efforts, just like her ancestors did when they started their own businesses after slavery.
“Entrepreneurship is all about solving problems, which is what Black people do in their day to day lives,” Bishop said.
Scheduled panelists for “Minding Her Own Black Owned Business” were Greathouse, Tycee Bell, community strategist; Natalie Bonner, founder of Talented Tenth, a 501C-3 social services agency that supplies outreach to disenfranchised individuals; Lisa Marsh, owner of MsPsGFree Inc., a supplier of gluten-free cookie bars and granola; and Sandy Moore, owner of two businesses in Joliet - Sandy’s Unique and Candy Kouture.
Moderator was Anna Wilder, a design and branding specialist with MUSA Brand.
Ryan Wilder of Bolingbrook, Anna’s daughter, said he grew up knowing about Juneteenth and he passed that knowledge onto his children, even though Juneteenth has only recently become known.
“You have to know where you come from in order to know where you are and where you are going to,” Ryan said.
Panelists discussed their journey to entrepreneurship. Marsh, who has a background in criminal justice, stressed the need for mentors.
“I was coming from federal corrections,” Marsh said. “I didn’t have the first clue about retail.”
Bell said networking was also important, that the people one meets along the way are the biggest resources for entrepreneurs in terms of information and insight.
“Your network is your net worth,” Bell said.
Jayda Johnson-Hayes, soon-to-be senior at Joliet West High School, made an appearance and announced she will represent Illinois in the Miss Black Teen USA pageant in August.
Scheduled panelists for “The Intersection of Law, Education & Black Culture” were Andrea DeTellis, managing attorney of the downtown Joliet office of Prairie State; Michael Ellison, associate dean for admissions at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin U-Med & Science; Escortina Ervin, executive director of diversity, equity, inclusion and compliance at Joliet Junior College; Sherri Hale, an associate judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit in Will County; and Dorletta Payton.
Scheduled moderator was journalist Beshanda Owusu.
Calvin Quarles, senior pastor of The Church at Bolingbrook, was scheduled to give the final prayer.
Before the event, Greathouse said she hopes people, the next time they hear a defamatory remark, to envision holding a can of water in one hand and a can of water in the other - and consider the following.
“Am I going to use my bucket of water to squash this or am I going to use my can of gas to set it on fire?” Greathouse said. “We hope people will leave here and use their bucket of water, if nothing else, to be kinder, to take time, to really see people and for us to be able to move forward and not be so angry.”
For more information, visit juneteenthwalkoflife.com.