#1StudentNWI: Free Juneteenth event celebrates black community with food, vendors, and more

What recently happened?

On Monday June 19 the City of Hammond held an event celebrating Juneteenth, starting off at the Freedom Plaza with the main event taking place at Martin Luther King (MLK) Park. 

Juneteenth is a federal holiday for the celebration of the emancipation of slaves back in 1865. Most people use this holiday to appreciate where they are now and reflect and look back onto the past. Other activities that take place on Juneteenth can be supporting black owned businesses, cookouts, and participating in events taking place that day.

This is Hammond’s third annual Juneteenth celebration. This year, besides the City of Hammond, Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) had also sponsored the event this year. The event is directed by the Community Development Director of Hammond, Owana Miller. 

“Juneteenth is the freedom of slaves, slavery. That means a whole lot to mean because as an African American female in the City of Hammond, I have appreciated the fact that the government has recognized it as a federal holiday. It gives our community the opportunity to celebrate the freedom, justice, equality and things of that nature,” Miller said. 

The event started off at the Freedom plaza where the mayor, Thomas M. McDermott Jr., read the proclamation recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. People greeted the mayor along with the third district councilman, Barry Tyler. This year they have also honored the Hammond Central High School’s Boys’ Basketball team who were the 2022-2023 Indiana Boys Regional Champions.The rest of the celebration takes place at MLK park with a disc jockey (DJ), eight food vendors, seven non-food vendors, and an estimated 30 nonprofits set up throughout the park. 

Once Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday, McDermott immediately stepped up and made sure Juneteenth was not only recognized but also used as a reflection in the City of Hammond. 

“As a reflection of what happened back in 1865. We celebrate the culture, the achievements of what African Americans mean and have meant to the nation, it’s just a precious moment in time. It’s about freedom and equality and just opportunities for everyone to come together and recognize what African contributions that African Americans have made in the country and the progress that we’ve made,” Miller said. 

According to Miller, she wanted people to leave understanding what the celebration is about. 

“We have a number of elderly people in our community that are called The Elders, and I talk to them a lot and I want them to be able to share to the younger generation some of the experiences that they remember growing up and the challenges that their parents and grandparents went through,” continued Miller.  

“I spoke to a young man – I call him a young man, he’s in his eighties and he’ll be 82 tomorrow. He has always told us different stories, so we do have an opportunity to gather those elders together and have just a conversation. I want people to take the knowledge that they’re being presented in understanding of what Juneteenth is all about back to their children. I’m 52 years old so, I’ll take the information back to my children or grandchildren. Just make sure that they understand who they are as well as where our ancestors came from and to know where we’re at right now,” Miller said.

What’s coming up?

Festival of the Lakes will be taking place at Wolf Lake from Wednesday, July 12 to Sunday, July 16. The Festival is generally free to the public besides on Saturday when the headliner, Lil Wayne, will be performing. Going from the first day (Wednesday) to last (Sunday) the headlining performers will be: Ashanti and Ja Rule, Brothers Osborne, Stone Temple Pilots, Lil Wayne, Luis Angel “El Flaco.” 

Ashanti is a singer and songwriter known for her R&B, sultry way of singing, while Ja Rule is a rapper who used to be in a 1999 group called ‘Cash Money Click’ with their hit single “Holla Holla.”

‘Brothers Osborne’ is a Grammy nominated country duo with brothers T.J and John Osborne. T.J Osborne is one of the few openly gay country singers to be with a big country label. 

Stone Temple Pilots is a Grammy winning classic grunge rock band that has been active since 1989 with members: Jeff Gutt, Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, and Eric Kretz. They’ve been easily regarded as an essential when listening to grunge rock, standing by legends such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains (AIC).

Lil Wayne is a Grammy winning rapper known for being ‘one of the greatest of all time,’ dominating the rap industry for over two decades with hit songs such as “Lollipop”, “Got Money”, and “Mrs.Officer”.

Despite his height, he plays a big role in the rap community.

Luis Angel, “El Flaco”, is a Mexican singer and songwriter mainly known for Banda, a type of Mexican folk music as well as other forms. 

There are tickets sold solely for Lil Wayne’s concert due to the high demand. Hammond residents were given a chance to obtain two tickets per address when they stopped by Hammond Civic Center on June 24 which allowed line up at 6 a.m., but started the giveaway at 9 a.m. Proof of being a Hammond resident was required by providing a state ID or driver license. There is no guarantee that every person who stood in the line received tickets. 

Tickets for sale are $125 for the gold section, not including tax, and $60 for the silver section. You must arrive with a ticket or else you will not be allowed entry. 

There will also be other events taking place throughout various days of the festival week, such as Fishing Day, Polka Day, and Senior Day. 

Community member spotlight:

As Hammond’s Community Development Director, Owana Miller’s responsibility is to make an outreach to the community. She’s in charge of multiple events including the Juneteenth celebration. As the director, she pulls together her committee of five people where they collaborate and review how the past year ‘s events went and start planning the stages for the upcoming year, this usually takes place around January through February. 

According to Miller, the daily life of a Community Development Director is very busy but enjoyable. She’s in charge of an approximated $3 million annual budget and her role is to administer the funds to the people in the community who need it. Such as low income people, seniors, and disabled individuals. They also try to cover everything ranging from public services to economic development, redevelopment, and similar situations. 

Miller has experienced her own ups and downs being an African-American woman, growing up Miller’s parents placed her into an all-African American school. In third grade she was transferred to an all-white school, Kenwood Elementary, along with her two cousins. It was a struggle for her and her two cousins to attend since they had a culture they were not familiar with nor were they familiar with their culture. Gradually, Miller was able to adapt and move onto middle school attending Eggers Middle School, then high school attending Hammond High School, currently known as Hammond Central High School.   

In regards to how Miller is currently contending with being an African American woman in the workplace she’s in, there are ups and downs, but she is comfortable in her skin. 

“Being an African American female, sometimes it has its challenges being in a setting where there’s all white male, all white people in general. But over the years I’ve learned to adapt and I know who I am and I know that I am a very powerful woman in my skin and I love it,” Miller said.

Miller also wanted to remind people not to discriminate towards anyone.

“I have a wide range of people that I connect with and there’s no judgment ever, I don’t look at people any differently than I would want them to look at me,” Miller said.

Miller’s hobbies are camping, fishing, and spending time with her family. Just recently, she and her family returned from a campsite in Angola, Indiana called Hogback Lake. They also enjoy other locations such as Caboose, Lake Holidays, and different locations in Illinois. 

Miller has a word of inspiration and advice for people out there. 

“I definitely would like to inspire anybody to take time to understand one another. The diversity in the City of Hammond, it outweighs a number of cities throughout the country, we have a wide range of people. The thing I would like to say is that if you take the time to understand each other, then this world, this country, will be a better place to live or to play. Just understand each other and not be judgemental. The inspiration that I would give out is to learn, to strive, to know one another,” Miller said.

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