SMC welcomes Black students, faculty, local business owners at Juneteenth celebration

Michael Daniels, director of the Student Multicultural Center.

Nicole Lew Reporter

The Kent State ballroom was filled with music, dancing and warm embraces Friday in celebration of Juneteenth National Independence Day. 

Black students, faculty and business owners gathered at the Student Multicultural Center’s Juneteenth Jubilee, the SMC’s first in-person event in over a year. 

“It’s like a big family reunion here,” said Michael Daniels, director of the SMC. “It’s amazing to get people back in person.”

The SMC summer student staff chose to include Black entrepreneurs to give them the opportunity to network and get involved with the community. Attendees were able to purchase items from the local Black-owned businesses such as plant and science based skincare products from Touched By Grace Body Care or handmade jewelry from 627 Ministry LLC.

“Everything we create reflects the fact that just as each piece of art and jewelry are handmade,” said Olivia Brown, founder of 627 Ministry LLC.

Other Black-owned businesses in attendance included sunglasses company Shaded and 2 Daughters Tea Company

Students Miracle Walker and Imari Hill came out to support Black-owned businesses and to celebrate Juneteenth with friends. Hill said Juneteenth is a powerful day for her. 

“It’s an important day for the Black community,” she said.

This statement was echoed by many attendees, including Chazzlyn Jackson, president of Undergraduate Student Government.

“We are celebrating Juneteenth and acknowledging the history,” Jackson said. “The presence and the legacy that our history holds is important for us to acknowledge just to celebrate how far we have come, but also recognize it doesn’t end and we still have each other to keep going.”

The SMC and the student employees put careful thought into each aspect of the jubilee down to the significance of the food and drinks served to guests. Refreshments included red soda and watermelon, along with facts relating to how these items became staples of the Black community.

The red soda symbolized the “bloodshed and resilience of enslaved Africans,” according to the signage on the refreshment stand. “Watermelon is a summer fruit grown by slave hands during the time of slavery, and the red and green color in the fruit also coincides with colors of Juneteenth.” 

In a speech, rising president of Black United Students Gabrielle Blake elaborated on this topic.

“On Juneteenth, it is the tradition to drink strawberry or red soda to honor the bloodshed and perseverance of African Americans in the country,” she said.

Barbecue food is also tied to Juneteenth, as stated in the signage, since enslaved Black people were “good at taking bad cuts of meat and preparing them in a way that made them tender and delicious.”

Joella Brooks, owner of Brooks Homestyle BBQ, served a selection of homemade soul food from a tent outside the Student Center. Brooks said she was coming home from an event when she was asked to participate in the Juneteenth celebration. 

“The SMC reached out to us because they heard great things about our food,” she said.

The Juneteenth Jubilee was held a day after June 19 was declared a federal holiday in honor of the official end of Slavery in 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. 

Jackson said she had mixed feelings about Juneteenth being signed into law as a federal holiday, seeing as the idea of teaching about race and racism in schools is currently a topic of debate among state legislators. 

“Thanks but no thanks,” she said. “It’s a missing step on how to liberate the Black population and people of color in general. [It feels like] we’re going to recognize this as a holiday, but we’re not going to recognize our history. … We’re not teaching a class, and we’re not accommodating modern policies and practices into our legal system to undo and uplift the systemic oppression and systemic racism.”

Brown had a more positive take and was overjoyed when she heard the news.

“I am elated, because I believe that’s how it should have always been,” she said.

After a year of social isolation, many people in attendance were glad to be surrounded by the uplifting energy of the SMC staff and members of Kent State’s black community.

“They have been my family ever since I came here [freshman year.] They have always been supportive academically, emotionally and professionally,” Jackson said. “[The SMC is] a safe space for people who look like me and who have similar experiences as students of color not only at a PWI such as Kent State, but in America.”

Working with BIPOC students and creating events to support and uplift them is an exciting part of working with the SMC, Daniels said.

“Kent State has one of the strongest and most dedicated loving communities when it comes to our students of color.” Daniels said. “I am very proud.”

Nicole Lew is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].