Kansas City Juneteenth festival radiates joy at 18th & Vine: ‘Reminder of new beginnings’

·3 min read

Troy Sanders grinned as he held the mic.

“I said, I love Black people,” the 11-year-old said, as listeners, including his mother, cheered him on. “And I want this song to change people’s lives, ‘cause it’s gonna be a change.”

“It’s been a long, a long time coming.” He sang the Sam Cook song “A Change is Gonna Come” in the opening hours of Saturday’s JuneteenthKC Heritage Festival in the 18th & Vine Jazz District.

But I know a change gonna come.”

Troy Sanders, 11, sings “A Change is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cook at the JuneteenthKC Heritage Festival on Saturday, June 19.
Troy Sanders, 11, sings “A Change is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cook at the JuneteenthKC Heritage Festival on Saturday, June 19.
Tabitha and Troy Sanders.
Tabitha and Troy Sanders.

Troy’s voice, full of soul, seemed to fill the air from a stage set in the grassy area between the Gregg/Klice Community Center and the Black Archives of Mid-America, captivating those nearby.

“Sing it Troy,” his mother, 35-year-old Tabitha Sanders, called out. “Come on, Troy.” After his performance, she wiped tears from her face.

“I’m just so proud,” she said.

Saturday’s event, full of businesses and performers, was Kansas City’s annual heritage celebration.

Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival drew hundreds as it kicked off in the 18th and Vine Jazz District on Saturday, June 19, 2021.
Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival drew hundreds as it kicked off in the 18th and Vine Jazz District on Saturday, June 19, 2021.

Juneteenth is the oldest national celebration commemorating the freedom of enslaved people. Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, with news that the enslaved were free.

Last week, Kansas Citians celebrated by lining the streets for the JuneteenthKC Parade.

Members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity performed a step routine in front of the judges stand at the JuneteenthKC 2021 Cultural Parade Saturday, June 12, 2021 in the Historic Jazz District near 18th and Vine.
Members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity performed a step routine in front of the judges stand at the JuneteenthKC 2021 Cultural Parade Saturday, June 12, 2021 in the Historic Jazz District near 18th and Vine.

But on Saturday, dozens of vendors lined up and down the streets and people mingled in the crowd, shopping at Black-owned jewelry stands, Black-owned t-shirt booths and Black-owned restaurants — Black-owned everything.

Jeff Harris with Heart Black Lives, right, talks with customers during Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021.
Jeff Harris with Heart Black Lives, right, talks with customers during Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021.

Days before, President Joe Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday, giving federal and Missouri state workers a paid day off. Texas, in 1980, was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. It’s been celebrated since 1866.

Samuel Brown, 64, and Joyce Burnham, 57, sat in lawnchairs taking shelter from the sun in the near 100 degree heat. They’ve been friends for 38 years. And they come to every Juneteenth celebration at 18th & Vine.

Brown’s favorite part of the holiday is how people come together. He said the fact that it’s now a national holiday means a lot, even though he’s celebrated for years.

Raheem Fielder-Bey of Kansas City powers a hamster wheel to make his snow cone at Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021.
Raheem Fielder-Bey of Kansas City powers a hamster wheel to make his snow cone at Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021.

Cameron Gentry, after browsing some shirts and choosing two that read “Black Fathers,” said the Black community has been waiting for the acknowledgment for a long time.

“It’s finally really hitting the people in a way that it never has before,” Gentry said. “As our people still fight for justice, we just appreciate the fact that we can be acknowledged as the Black race, African American race, and how we fight for our freedom everyday.”

Jeff Harris with Heart Black Lives, shows customer Cameron Gentry of Kansas City some of the t-shirts for sale at Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021. Gentry purchased two t-shirts that say Black Fathers.
Jeff Harris with Heart Black Lives, shows customer Cameron Gentry of Kansas City some of the t-shirts for sale at Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021. Gentry purchased two t-shirts that say Black Fathers.

Shawna Taylor, 51, took a moment to dance to the beat of the drums from Ed “Bucketman” Humes as she walked across East 18th Street. She said he was a drummer when she was in a drill team.

“Today this means a reminder of new beginnings. It means being open to history, what we didn’t get, embracing some new things, our culture our identity,”

Ed “Bucketman” Humes plays his buckets on 18th Street during Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021.
Ed “Bucketman” Humes plays his buckets on 18th Street during Kansas City’s Juneteenth Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine Jazz District Saturday, June 19, 2021.

The federal recognition, she said, is “a good way to identify the history and say, ‘OK we need to do this.’ And thank you. Thank you! That’s what I would say.”

Back on the stage, Sanders sang.

“Oh, there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long,” his voice rang out. “But now I think I’m able, to carry on. It’s been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gonna come.”

Oh, yes it will.”

The Star’s Jill Toyoshiba contributed to this story.

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