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#ROC Juneteenth Celebration Returns to MLK Park

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Celebrate Juneteenth in the heart of downtown Rochester!

One of the largest free Juneteenth events in the area will return to the Martin Luther King, Jr. park on Chestnut Street and organizers say they're excited to return to the central location.

"We moved it last year because of the pandemic but we're very excited to be back in the park this year," said Simeon Banister, an organizer and Executive Vice President of the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission. He said the team is still partnering with the Strong National Museum of Play as they did last year for a part of the day's events, which will happen inside the museum before the celebration moves to the nearby park for the rest of the day.

"Garth Fagan Dance will perform and we also have Jimmie Highsmith, Jr.,among many other community performances, so I think people who come out will have a great time listening to music and seeing #ROC talent," he continued.

The Juneteenth event will feature:
  • A ROC Freedom Riders Bike Ride

  • Libation ceremony + talks about community, elders & the history of Juneteenth

  • Performance from Garth Fagan Dance

  • Speeches from the Urban League of Rochester & many prominent Black businesses and organizations

  • Performance from Jimmie Highsmith, Jr., sponsored by the Rochester International Jazz Festival

  • Community performances, local vendors and food

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a day that marks the emancipation of enslaved people. Although the Emancipation Proclamation "officially" marked the end of slavery, rebellious forces and landowners in parts of Texas refused to free enslaved people or even tell them of their freedom. In fact, in Galveston, Texas, alone an order by a Union general led to more than 250,000 people being freed– two years after the Proclamation.

Locally, in Rochester, inequities persist across employment, housing and safety, all of which have their roots in slavery and racism.

For example, residents face a lack of access to high-quality employment. Today, many tech companies call Rochester home and yet have little diversity among the staff and leadership. In fact, this is the same reason Kodak was protested by FIGHT in the 60s, just a couple years after the Rochester "riot." Additionally, the city remains highly segregated, which has a major impact on health, access to healthcare and healthy foods. And criminal justice remains an issue that has actually garnered national attention.

All of these indicate that Juneteenth isn't just a celebration of how far we've come, but a sober reminder of how much further we have to go to find true freedom.

“Juneteenth is once again an opportunity for us as a nation to deepen our understanding of the horror embedded in our sanitized history,"said Colorado University Denver Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Antonio Farias. "If we refuse to confront our past—the genocidal depopulation of Native American lands and subsequent repopulation with enslaved Africans—we will continue to tear at the fabric of our already fragile democracy,”

Locally, there are several organizations fighting for change. Some were formed as the result of the Great Migration & the riots of the 1960s, while others are more recent responses to criminal justice policies and policing.

"Juneteenth is a celebration but it's also a great chance to reconnect with other people in this community and learn what they've been doing and see how we can support each other," explained Bannister. "We want people to come have fun and just see how much #ROC talent is here and that we already have the resources we need to make the change we want to see."


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