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Juneteenth Festival embraces science, splash pads

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Understanding the definition of “sankofa” is crucial to grasping the concept behind the Juneteenth Festival, the nationwide celebration of African-American heritage and concluding celebration of Sankofa Days.

“Sankofa,” an Akan term, means this: “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.”

Buffalo’s version, the third-largest in the country, returns for a 38th year from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Deemed “Breaking the Invisible Chains,” the event doubles as the remembrance of past hardship and the realization of freedom and opportunity.

While Juneteenth is very symbolic and serious in its meeting, there’s a massive element of fun, too—consider the splash pad that recently opened inside the park (pictured right, courtesy of Buffalo Rising).

The Juneteenth Festival begins with a parade at 11 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Genesee and Moselle streets, then strolls down Genesee Street into Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The entire gathering is free to attend, but there will be ample opportunities to purchase food, beverages and a litany of crafts on-site.

As The Buffalo News staff reporter and former UB Spectrum stalwart Luke Hammill noted June 8, this year’s festivities mesh nicely with a major theme developing in Buffalo: the value of science in shaping our city’s future.

“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, to Hammill. “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.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the positive changes associated with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is set to open thousands of jobs and house the brand-new campus of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biological Sciences (proposed design pictured below) by 2016. As Brown alludes, the potential for Buffalonians to secure employment in this blossoming field exists only if locals are aware of the opportunity.

As a result, Juneteenth has added its inaugural Science Fair and Expo, an all-ages science program replete with on-site experiments and presentations of all kinds at both 2 p.m. and 7. According to Juneteenth’s press release, special guest Dr. Oneeka Williams, MD, will speak on youth in science and unveil her recent children’s book “Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo’s Mission to Pluto.”

The festival’s particulars aren’t limited to science, however, as there will be musical from The All-Star Band & Joey Diggs, among others, on Saturday, as well as Will Holton serving as the headliner at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

A food court, a girls basketball showcase, chalk walk and crafts, underground railroad tours that begin at the corner of Best and Fillmore, a mental health pavilion, children’s activities and an arts and culture stage provide even further depth for the event.

Buffalo doesn’t need to be known only as the place where science experts from around the globe congregate with cutting-edge resources—it can be a place where we groom the next generation of scientists in our own backyard.

“The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus represents the city’s future,” said Mayor Byron Brown in a release.

“It has already generated approximately $1 billion in public and private sector investments, bringing thousands of new jobs into the heart of the city and creating an exciting environment of medical research and discovery and the commercialization of new medical products. Our investment will help strengthen the infrastructure that is essential to the BNMC’s continuing and future success.”

To revisit last year’s event, check out some of the vendors that our guest blogger Redd Roxx chatted with. For more specific details of what’s happening this weekend, browse the Juneteenth Festival Facebook group.

TAGGED: festivals, juneteenth festival, luke hammill, martin luther king jr. park, sankofa days, science fairs, splash pads, will holton

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