Juneteenth Day—more than food, family and fun

June 30, 2022

Sandra Millon Underwood, RN, PhD, FAAN
Professor Emerita UWM – College of Nursing

Milwaukee has the distinct honor of having one of the oldest and largest Juneteenth Day celebrations in the country. And, with COVID-19 mandates eased, this family reunion-style day of food, fun, laughter, and camaraderie attracted more than 40,000 to this year’s Juneteenth Day street festival.

Tony Kearney

The fact that so many people of color convene for this event has not gone unnoticed by exhibitors, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations throughout the state. In fact, Tony Kearney, Executive Director of Northcott Neighborhood House (NNH), which organizes Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day festivities, said that of the 418 exhibitors that participated in this year’s event, about 40 percent of them are non-profit organizations promoting their services, programs, and resources available to the community.

“While certainly Juneteenth Day is a day of fun and camaraderie, I also believe it is critical to have health-related vendors and non-profits on hand during these festivities. African Americans tend to experience more health issues (than other ethnicities) and we tend to be more suspicious of health care providers—especially those who are of a different color. We do not go to the doctor regularly—especially black males and I include myself in that category— unless we are about to pass out. We (typically) do not like to go to the doctor,” said Kearney.

Northcott Neighborhood House (NNH) was created in 1961 by the United Methodist Women of the United Methodist Church, the Wisconsin Annual Conference UMC and General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. NNH is a safe haven for seniors and youth, providing education, employment training, jobs and recreation, a food pantry and a variety of other resources to the community.

Juneteenth Day provides a light atmosphere where, while having fun and socializing, individuals can pick up health-related information, resources, or freebies that may have important reminders about health. Many nonprofits understand that they have somewhat of a ‘ready audience’ of individuals who might benefit from information and resources that, without events like this, they would never receive. Organizers of Juneteenth Day and other groups have picked up on this and are grateful for venues such as street festivals to reach their target audiences.

“Health Connections— one of our partners—was on site during this year’s Juneteenth Day giving COVID-19 vaccinations or COVID-19 tests. African Americans tend to be very suspicious of health professionals, in general, but access to health care resources is another problem. Sometimes they just do not know where to go to access services. Our exhibitors are able to share information with them about where to access various services as well as share information about resources that are available to them that they may be unaware of,” said Kearney.

Adeline Greene

Adeline Greene, who participated in Kenosha’s Juneteenth Day on behalf of the Southeastern Wisconsin Sisters’ Network agrees. A 7-1/2 year cancer survivor, Greene is chair of membership and outreach, and serves as the treasurer for Sisters Network of Southeast Wisconsin. The Southeast Wisconsin Sisters Network is an affiliate chapter of national Sisters Network®, which was founded in Dallas some 20 years ago. The mission of Sisters Network® Inc., is to increase local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African American community.

“Events like Juneteenth Day provide us with a great opportunity to focus on health related concerns, particularly black health, and black women’s health because cancer impacts our community more significantly than other communities,” said Greene.

While Juneteenth is just one day—it has become virtually a one-stop-shop for just about every resource that one might need that is available in the community. Both Kearney and Greene are quick to point out that providing access to services is something their organizations are committed to doing, and not just on Juneteenth.