The 2023 Downtown Akron Juneteenth Celebration was a sweet observance of Black joy that showed up differently than in the past. This year, the committee behind the Downtown Akron Juneteenth Celebration, made of a highly engaged group of community members, had the idea to expand to a two-day event, and to hold them the weekend prior to Akron's famed city-wide Juneteenth celebrations, which included the 25th Annual Akron Juneteenth Festival at Stoner Hawkins Park, the Joy Park Juneteenth Festival, and others.
June 9: Mix & Mingle
The merriment began Friday evening at the Knight Stage, where 300 people enjoyed an intimate showcase of Black-owned downtown food establishments. The setup was unique; every hour, patrons tasted signature small bites from a different restaurant, starting with Ernie’s Catering and Event Planning, followed by Perfect Pour, Urban Gourmet, and DeJuan’s. Essential Dipped Delights served cookies throughout the event. Ebony Hill of Hilltastic Coaching and Consulting emceed the evening, and as guests sampled the featured food each hour, Hill guided the restaurateurs through a Q&A session to give the audience a look behind the scenes of the beloved downtown businesses.
While people mixed and mingled, they listened and danced to the musical stylings of DJ Vinnie G, accompanied by percussionist Andreas Mosley for an upbeat flair. Guests filled seats around low- and high-top tables and in a lounge area on the second level of the space. It was a lighthearted, celebratory evening, which we hope to bring back next year.
June 10: Family Celebration
The Saturday celebration on Cascade Plaza was special and sweet. By our estimates, roughly a thousand people came downtown to enjoy the food trucks, performances, games, vendors, and drinks with their families and friends.
The lineup of entertainment was phenomenal. Performers for the evening included the exceptionally energetic Black Beanz, local lyrical artist Xposyur, the Omo Iroko Drum & Dance Society, and headliner band FunkyardX. In between sets, DJ J Boogie kept the party going, along with Ace Epps, the emcee, and Ebony Hill, who interspersed Juneteenth trivia questions throughout the event.
The food for the evening was a smash hit. People flocked to crispy fried fish from Ernie’s Catering, expertly smoked chicken from Cookie’s BBQ, fresh Ethiopian cuisine from Bereka Coffee, and decadent sweets from Essential Dipped Delights. Accompanying said food, for those of age, were two signature drinks curated by Perfect Pour: the Perfect Lemonade and the Perfect Cherry Sour. Both were consumed with gusto by the crowd.
The interior of the plaza was lined by businesses and organizations selling wares, offering free haircuts, registering people to vote, leading Juneteenth crafts, and educating on projects like the Sojourner Truth Plaza and the Reconnecting Our Community initiative. Visitors also got to participate in a free community mural-painting activity, led by Da’Shika Street of Street Craftery.
Overall, it was an evening of delicious food, great art, community togetherness, and most importantly, joy.
We are grateful to everyone who joined us in honoring Juneteenth downtown this year, and especially to the planning committee, staff, vendors, artists, volunteers, and community organizations that helped make this year’s celebrations the best yet.