This Saturday, Juneteenth is back, and this summer it’s Wakanda themed, so like dress appropriately. Festival organizer Norman Harris III has been running the show for nearly a decade now and he anticipates the celebration to be even more exciting than usual this year.
“Despite all the change that has happened in Northeast Denver and Welton and the Five Points, Juneteenth has remained, and it’s been stronger than it has been in the last seven years, and our goal is to make it the strongest its been in the last fifty years,” he said.
In fact, this Juneteenth, Harris plans on opening the Rossonian Hotel for public viewing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., which may be the last time the public will be able to see it before major renovations begin.
Not only will the festival have all of the necessary trimmings of a Juneteenth celebration like phenomenal music and tantalizing food options, but most importantly, it will have the second annual Dream Big Awards to honor some of Denver’s most magnificent residents.
“We’re looking to highlight the achievements of African Americans in the community that have set new standards for high achievement. One message that the festival and Juneteenth has that we really try to promote is for our community to dream big,” Harris said.
For those that don’t know, Juneteenth was established as a celebration of freedom after the last slaves were emancipated from the vestiges of American plantations. Since then, the holiday has blossomed into the high-powered festivals we’ve come to know and love. Denver, in particular, has consistently been able to highlight its African American community through the parade and of course being in the historic Five Points neighborhood adds quite a bit of flavor to the holiday’s special sauce.
Five Points was once a predominantly black neighborhood that was known for its financial health and profound artistic legacy. Legendary artists like Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk used to regularly come through the neighborhood and stay in hotels there when they were booked for shows in Denver. They were attracted to Five Points initially because they weren’t permitted to stay elsewhere in the city, because you know, racism. That scenario eventually led to the neighborhood developing a peculiar and esteemed identity as the “Harlem of the West.”
That history is the reason Harris believes Juneteenth can’t take place anywhere else in Denver but in Five Points, on Welton Street.
“I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but there’s so much history in the bricks of the buildings on Welton Street and the people who have stories and have performed there. I sincerely believe there’s a little different vibration of music that comes off those walls. It creates a perfect stage for events that feature that soul sand touch people’s souls,” said Harris.
These days the demographics of the neighborhood have changed quite a bit, but the vibe of Juneteenth has managed to remain the same. That of course is not to say festival organizers don’t want a coalition of cultures to take part in the celebration. “It’s certainly designed to be a celebration for all cultures just like you go to Cinco de Mayo and see all people supporting Mexican heritage and St. Patrick’s Day you see people supporting Irish heritage. We want to have that same impact on the city, that people feel comfortable and invited,” said Harris.
Legendary rapper — many would call him a god emcee — Jadakiss will take the stage to drop bars and knowledge on the large audience that typically crowds Welton Street for the festival as well and his performance begins at 7:15 p.m. Saturday night.
The Juneteenth Parade starts at Manual High School at 9 a.m. The Dream Big Awards start at 1 p.m. on the main stage at 27th and Welton Streets, followed by music, fashion and more music.
Here’s the full schedule, according to the Juneteenth website:
1:00-2:00 #DREAMBIG Awards Ceremony
2:15-3:00 The Mighty Nice Band
3-3:30 DJ Set
3:30-4:15 The Wil Alston Band
4:15-4:45 Clothing Chaos Five Points Legend Fashion Exhibit
6-6:20 DJ Set
6:45- 7:15 DJ MU$A