Juneteenth? In a vaxxed summer? Here’s how Black L.A. is celebrating

Black organizers, artists, poets and skateboarders share how they're celebrating Juneteenth in L.A. this year.
(Photos by Wally Skalij, Francine Orr and Christina House / Los Angeles Times; Illustrations by Temi Coker)
Share

Mornings at Harun, afternoons at Band of Vices. Thousands of sweaty bodies congregating at cultural hubs across the city. Giving back. Supporting Black-owned businesses. Kicking it with the homies. Communing with your ancestors as if they were at the cookout. Loving yourself, your family, your friends. Simply being Black AF.

For Black folks in L.A., there’s no right, wrong or single way to celebrate Juneteenth this year. As we step into our post-pandemic world, this act of celebrating feels more high-stakes and necessary than ever.

While people have been commemorating the day in L.A. for years, the racial justice uprisings and Juneteenth celebrations of 2020 (some virtual, some not) brought a new awareness and set the groundwork for many residents’ relationship to the day.

This year’s festivities are timed with a vaxxed summer that’s already surging with a sense of liberation, fitting for a holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas finally learned of their freedom.

In other words, Angelenos are going all out. We asked Black organizers, artists, poets and skateboarders in and across the city how they’re celebrating.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Muna Malik portrait
Artist Muna Malik is part of a group show opening at Band of Vices on June 19 called “Masterpiece II.”
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

Starting off Juneteenth, I’ll be in Leimert Park — I used to live there and it feels like I still live there — at Chace Infinite’s coffee shop, Harun. Then I’m going to make my way to West Adams for a group show that Band of Vices is putting together that I’m really honored to be a part of. It has one of my favorite artists on the list — his name is Dread Scott, an iconic, incredible artist. To see my name alongside his, it’s like I’m in heaven. They’re calling it “Masterpiece II,” and the goal is to connect emerging, mid-career and really influential artists and put them in a place where they can be in conversation. This whole neighborhood is changing so much, so it’s nice to see that there’s a hold of culture that also resembles what this neighborhood used to be.

What better way to celebrate Juneteenth than by being able to come here and see Black and brown artists showing their work during a tough time? I feel like it’s really easy with holidays to lose the history and the significance and the meaning. In regards to Juneteenth, my friends and I imagine this community will aim to get the point across, especially with what has been happening over the last few years. What better time to solidify the importance of this day? It’s poetic.

“Masterpiece II’s” opening reception is from 2 to 6 p.m. on June 19 at 5376 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. It will be on view until Aug. 14.

Barrington Darius portrait
Watts artist Barrington Darius is partnering with artist Lauren Halsey to throw UNIFest, a family-friendly block party at the Crenshaw Family YMCA.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

This year is special. Everybody’s coming into their fullness, their creativity and their flow — and I’m just like, “Let’s bring it all into one space.” I reached out to my friend Lauren Halsey; she’s a sculptor and artist. I’ve been filming a documentary on her and her food initiative, Summaeverythang for about 30 weeks. We said, “Let’s end this off with something fun. Let’s do a block party called UNIFest.” The name “UNIFest” is inspired by Wattstax, a concert in 1973 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Black Out the Ballot is a community organization, along with Our Piece of the Pie, that is partnering with us to produce the event.

We’re also partnering with the Crenshaw Family YMCA — we’ll be on that entire block for the day. There will be about 50 vendors, food trucks, wellness activities, music, games and good stuff. I’m gonna bring the funk. It’s family-friendly. Really good spiritual vibes, just let your hair down.

Advertisement

To celebrate Juneteenth, I’m going to be loving Black people. I’m going to be loving myself, going to be loving my mother, my family. I hope to set an example that this is how you can feel every day.

UNIFest is from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Crenshaw Family YMCA, 3820 Santa Rosalia Drive, Los Angeles .

Bay Davis portrait
For Bay Davis, celebrating Juneteenth this year looks like being more intentional and taking a break.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

I’ve been doing community work for a really long time, and I’ve always been very aware of this idea that when we have a win, we don’t really get a moment to celebrate. I feel like I’ve always lived there, never really having a chance of “the let go.” In reading about Juneteenth, even just watching YouTube videos, I was like, “Oh, this has been [a thing].” It felt more heavy than celebratory for sure.

That’s where I started, but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been like, “OK, well, I’m going to let go.” This is another moment where I get to learn from my ancestors and take it into everyday life. I’m just going to kick it at home and have the same conversation with my ancestors that I normally do. I think it’s the same as if I was to go to a cookout with people. Especially now, since knowing more of the history of Juneteenth. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I want to be more intentional: I’m taking a break.”

Not that it’s not valid, but I don’t want to go to barbecues. There’s more. There’s something more — a little deeper there. Cool, you’re celebrating. Cool, you’re marching. Cool, you’re chanting. Cool, you’re doing X, Y and Z. But then there’s still this missing piece of how that’s showing up in your everyday life and how you’re actually implementing that. Like what’s the tangible s—, you know?

Follow Davis’ work on Instagram, @baydavis.

Skaters posing at Neighbors Skate Shop in Leimert Park Village.
Neighbors Skate Shop crew kilaM McCullough, Mackksaray Macksa, Nift, Tré, Cleon Arrey, Brandon DeCoud and Gionny Singleton are celebrating Juneteenth by ‘being Black in one of the best Black communities in L.A.’
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

I’m going to celebrate Juneteenth by hanging out with the homies, giving back to the community. We have a skate ramp that’s going to be in front [of the shop] and a new collection of clothes dropping on Juneteenth called Sankofa, a nickname for the neighborhood. — Tré, 33, founder and co-owner

I feel like people don’t realize Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipated people, a.k.a Freedom Day, a.k.a. Jubilee Day. Black as f—, just like all these kids have been saying. It’s a day to celebrate Blackness. — Cleon Arrey, 32, co-owner

I’m going to celebrate by being a happy Black boy on Juneteenth with my homies. And that’s it. — Mackksaray Macksa, 24, artist, skateboarder

I’m celebrating Juneteenth with all my friends, family, a whole lotta Black stuff going on: positivity, energy, everything. — Gionny Singleton, 24, skateboarder, Neighbors employee

Advertisement

I’m going to celebrate by supporting Black businesses that day. — kilaM McCullough, 25, artist and rapper, manager of Neighbors

I’m celebrating Juneteenth with all my skate brothers, in the Mecca, the church of Neighbors Skate Shop, you feel me? Supporting all my Black people, young kids, just trying to make a difference. — Brandon DeCoud, 23, skateboarder and employee for Neighbors

I’m celebrating Juneteenth by being Black in one of the best Black communities in L.A. We’re going to be chilling, eating some oxtails. — Nift, 24, music producer, Neighbors employee

Just enjoying the festivities of the neighborhood, maybe catching some pictures of everything going on around here. — Gorry Arnwine, 30, designer and photographer (not pictured)

Neighbors Skate Shop is at 4344 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles.

Michy Foster portrait
Michy Foster’s organization, Foster the Millions, is hosting events all weekend in celebration of Juneteenth.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Foster the Millions was birthed in 2019 after Nipsey Hussle passed. Me and my friends around the neighborhood, we noticed that we were missing our leader and trying to figure out ways of bringing our community together, especially in South Central. I was like, “What’s the one thing that my neighborhood really needs right now?” And that was for the streets to be clean. So I did a neighborhood cleanup and that was successful — like 14 Saturdays in a row. Then I partnered up with We Love Leimert and I started producing art shows, then poetry slams, my own flea market ... blood drives.

I’m one of those people who’d heard about Juneteenth but never really celebrated. But then seeing last year — all of us coming together [in Leimert], it was so beautiful. It kind of felt like the ancestors were with us. We need to celebrate Juneteenth; we need to keep this alive for our culture.

This year, I am doing the most. Friday night, I’m partnering with my friend Tylynn Burns and her organization House Party Creative to do a joint fundraising gala at the California African American Museum. It’ll be a preview to the rest of our festivities that weekend. On Saturday I will be in Leimert Park showcasing artists from the area. I also curated a panel of my favorite Black creatives from L.A. [working] in mixed industries. We’re going to have a DJ, we’re going to have live painting. On Sunday I’m having my flea market [at 2023 W. Gage Ave.], so it’s three events.

I feel like last year for Juneteenth we didn’t have that much of a takeaway. Everybody was living in the moment. It was lit. It was really lit. But I was like, “How can we build on that? And then how can we benefit Leimert since we are all here?” I was trying to figure out a way where we can make it lit, but also know that people are leaving knowing that they gave back.

Advertisement

Foster the Millions’ Juneteenth event takes place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at 3411 W. 43rd Place, Los Angeles. Organizers will be selling T-shirts with proceeds benefiting participating artists and the Phoenix in All, an organization that supports local vendors in Leimert Park.