Cultural pride, diversity rule at Youngstown’s Juneteenth festival

Correspondent photos / Sean Barron Members of the Chaney High School cheerleading squad entertain those at the two-day annual Juneteenth Cultural Festival on Saturday at Wean Park in downtown Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — You could easily say that Kevin Allen’s long tables of T-shirts were more than light, comfortable clothing: In a sense, they were snippets of black and American history.

“I (also) have hats and African prints,” Allen, of Cleveland, said.

Allen, who runs a business called Gear 2 Go, was selling a variety of the shirts and other items Saturday as one of the vendors for the free, two-day annual Juneteenth Cultural Festival at Wean Park in downtown Youngstown.

Among the merchandise he was selling Saturday were T-shirts on which were a series of black inventors and their inventions, as well as prominent black women such as Michelle Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson.

Other shirts depicted the tragic May 31 and June 1, 1921, Tulsa race massacre in that city’s affluent Greenwood section, which also was known as “Black Wall Street.”

Although certain accounts vary, the trouble began May 30 when a young black man named Dick Rowland rode in a downtown elevator with a white woman named Sarah Page. Inflammatory accounts of what occurred circulated in the white community, culminated by an article in the May 31 Tulsa Tribune that sparked a confrontation between armed whites and blacks at the courthouse, where police had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland, who had been arrested.

On June 1, 1921, white rioters looted and burned about 35 city blocks of black stores, churches, restaurants and businesses. Scores of people were injured, and the initial death count was about 36, though historians now contend that number was much higher.

Allen, who has worked 25 years as a heavy equipment operator, said he sets up at many festivals in the Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron areas.

On Saturday afternoon, the attendance seemed sparse, presumably because many people opted to stay out of the high heat and humidity. Despite the unfavorable weather, the vendors did their best to stay cool and accommodate passers-by and customers.

Among them were Tracy Calvin, Nikki Venorsky and Samantha Black, who work for Unique Sparkle in Boardman.

“It breaks down in water in a few days,” Calvin said, referring to a type of nontoxic, eco-friendly glitter they sold that is made from environmentally-friendly material instead of plastic.

Their product line also is organic and made from natural ingredients as a healthier alternative to plastic, which, the women said, is contributing to higher amounts of pollution worldwide and widespread damage to the Earth.

“We want to leave a more positive impact on the planet,” Venorsky added.

Selling merchandise to raise awareness of several causes was Brittany Herring of Columbus, whose business, Purple Savage Apparel, is in Youngstown.

Herring, who has had epilepsy for about 11 years, had for sale a clothing line to raise greater awareness of the brain disorder. In addition, she had on her table a line called Rell Heavy 330 Apparel, in honor of her friend Terrell Roland, who was fatally shot March 30, 2008. The clothing was to call attention to the scourge of gun violence, she said.

Another clothing line was set up to raise greater awareness of autism, said Herring, whose 11-year-old son is on the spectrum.

“In April, I add puzzle pieces to my clothing,” Herring said, referring to April being recognized as Autism Awareness Month.

Also honored in eyeglass wear Herring was selling was her later grandfather, Willie Steve Allen, who she had never met but felt she came to know through others.

“I’ve always heard good things about him,” Herring said, adding that he died when her mother was 10.

Festival events included the Youngstown Youth Talent Showcase, Hip-Hop Homage, a Sunday soul food cook-off, R&B Only: Juneteenth Edition and fireworks.

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