Second Annual Juneteenth Celebration @ The Commons


Sweet Water Foundation’s Second Annual Juneteenth at The Commons took place on Saturday, June 22, 2019, welcoming hundreds of people on a beautiful summer day to create, build, and celebrate freedom and community.

The Commons was transformed into a vibrant festival atmosphere with live music, food, dance, public art exhibits, vendors, basketball, arts + crafts, and more. The pocket park adjacent to the Work-Shop became a family art, crafts, and play space complete with bubbles and sidewalk chalk for pure summer fun. The community garden buzzed with people enjoying food, vendors, plant giveaways, chess, hands-on screen printing, and shaded gathering space.

57th Place was closed to traffic so that kids of all ages could take part in basketball or enjoying a carefree stroll through the Commons. The Thought Barn took center stage with music and dance performances by DJ Kwest_On, Corey Wilkes, RECOVERY EFFECTS, the International Capoeira Angola Foundation, Red Clay Dance Company, Project Tool dancers, the Moya Dance and Music Ensemble with Chakaba (Stilt Walker) and Drummers, and sounds by DJ Lee Farmer.

Every inch of the Commons brought forth a sense of community rooted in history with the hope of new possibilities.

Amidst the celebration, the community was called to the Thought Barn to hear words on the historical importance of Juneteenth and the purpose and significance of the day’s event. SWF Executive Director, Emmanuel Pratt brought attention to the power of the people to create energy that restores light to spaces like the Commons.

Read on to learn more about and see photographs of this year’s celebration.

Introducing The FIFTH Star

The Second Annual Juneteenth Celebration at The Commons was also significant because Sweet Water Foundation introduced The FIFTH Star to the Chicago Flag during the event. The four stars of the Chicago flag each represent a significant moment in Chicago’s history - Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–34. 

The FIFTH Star represents the many untold histories and truths as a reconciliatory platform for new beginnings. The FIFTH Star recognizes Jean Baptiste Point du Sable being the original ‘founder’ of Chicago and that today is a new moment in Chicago’s history with new political possibilities as we are governed for the first time by a black, LGBTQ woman as Mayor and the first elected black woman as alderman of the 20th Ward. 

juneteenth2019 patch.jpg

The work of Sweet Water Foundation has given new life to a so-called ”blighted” neighborhood that was once a red-lined district and on which a closed CPS school once stood.  The Commons represents a new, regenerative model of neighborhood development and potential futures for the entire City of Chicago.

The Second Annual Juneteenth at The Commons was a true reflection of SWF’s vision to reroot, remember, rebuild, and restore community.  Sweet Water Foundation looks forward to the next Juneteenth Celebration at The Commons.

Why Juneteenth?

At its core, Juneteenth is about a celebration of freedom and community. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, the day on which the abolition of slavery was announced in the state of Texas, representing the true end of slavery in the United States of America more than  2 1/2 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. 

In the United States, the celebration of freedom and independence is most often associated with the 4th of July. There is no doubt that July 4, 1776, was significant in the history of our nation, but it is not a day upon which all Americans can reflect upon as a representation of freedom. Juneteenth is a such a day. A day that all Americans can and should collectively celebrate in recognition of the moment all people in the United States were granted freedom.  

For Sweet Water Foundation, recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth is an intentional act of community-building focused on Radical [Re]Construction. Radical meaning “of or restoring to the root” and [Re]Construction meaning the rebuilding and healing of our community.  

In 1865, after the original Juneteenth, the Reconstruction Era began. Reconstruction was a time during which African Americans had to learn how to navigate the world as free people. But how does one build their life in a world designed to exclude you?

More than 150 years later, this question continues to be relevant for African Americans via systematic and systemic disinvestment, discrimination, hate crimes, and oppression. Given our current cultural, social, and political climate, we find ourselves amidst a new reconstruction era. A Radical [Re]Construction era during which it is more important than ever to remember and honor the significance of Juneteenth to allow us to cultivate healing within and across communities and forge a new way forward.

 Through the intentional integration of food, art, music, building, play, and making place, Juneteenth at the Commons is curated to be an intergenerational event, providing families and community members of all ages with a space to re-envision both personhood and place, and travel from fragmentation to possibility and wholeness within self and community.

Our deepest gratitude to the people and organizations that made the Second Annual Juneteenth Celebration at the Commons possible.

Juneteenth 2019 Partners and Supporters:

  • ArtPlace America

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois

  • Chicago Community Trust

  • City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)

  • Hyde Park Art Center

  • Links Hall, Onye Ozuzu, and Project Tool

  • Smart Museum of Art

  • Safe and Peaceful Communities Fund

  • Walter S. Mander Foundation


Juneteenth at the Commons Performers and Contributors:

  • Corey Wilkes 

  • DJ Kwest_on 

  • DJ Lee Farmer

  • International Capoeira Angola Foundation - Capoeira 

  • Moya Dance and Music Ensemble with Chakaba (Stilt Walker) and Drummers

  • Project Tool - Dance


  • Red Clay Dance Company - Dance

  • Chef Mama Betty - Culinary Art

  • Darren Cole, Stephen Julien Stewart, and Darby McLaughlin- Videography

  • Mama Sunshine - Face Painting

  • Michelle Nordmeyer - Screen Printing



Michael Christiano, Jacqueline Finley, Angela Ford, Daniela Chong Lugon, Kate Mytty, Dorian Nash, Michelle Nordmeyer, Dejah Powell, Kolenda “Kokoa” Rattler and Family, Quory Watkins, the Smart Museum of Art team, and many others.


Sweet Water Foundation Team:

Hassan Beymuhammed, Keith Denson, Zainab Firdausi, Tanya Scruggs Ford, Jordan Graham, James Godsil, Courtney Hug, Armani McCalister, Chris Nelson, Devontae Phillips, Emmanuel Pratt, Jia Lok Pratt, Micheal Reynolds, David Snowdy, Rudy Taylor, Betty Williams, and Orrin Williams.

Courtney Hug