ABUSUA Organizes Block Party for First On-Campus Juneteenth Celebration


Gigi Ewing

Students celebrate Juneteenth at ABUSUA’s Juneteenth Block Party with games, food, and live music.

ABUSUA, Oberlin’s Black Student Union, and the College’s Juneteenth committee will be hosting Oberlin’s first Juneteenth Celebration in the form of a block party this evening from 3–7 p.m. in Wilder Main Space. 

The event will include games, music, and food catered by The Arb at Tappan Square and will mark the start of several more events occurring in town, including tonight’s celebration of Black art, Light In The Tunnel: Reflections on Freedom, and a parade to be hosted tomorrow by the City of Oberlin. The party will also serve as a way for students to gather in commemoration of the historical significance of the day.

Food for ABUSUA’s Juneteenth Block Party was catered by The Arb at Tappan Square. (Gigi Ewing)

The event has been advertised on various social media platforms and in the Campus Digest to increase anticipation and participation: Everyone is welcome to enjoy the cookout’s activities and music.

Juneteenth is the oldest national commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Yesterday, President Joe Biden signed a law that establishes Juneteenth as a federal holiday on June 19. 

“These celebrations exemplify a commitment to celebrate, in moments of pure joy, Black people’s right to live as free human beings,” wrote the co-chairs of Oberlin’s Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity Meredith Gadsby and Bill Quillen in a June 11 statement to the campus community. “Despite the ongoing challenges of a nation still wrestling with a recognition of this right, Juneteenth allows African Americans to reflect on the resilience of their ancestors, even as they take up the charge, as Americans, to maintain a sustained conviction to equity and social justice.”

The event comes at a particularly important moment when second and third-year students are on campus together for the first time this academic year. College second-year and ABUSUA Chair of Organizational Affairs Fafa Nutor points out that the Juneteenth celebration brings these groups together after a particularly difficult year. 

“I think there’s just a sort of gratefulness that at least we can be together,” Nutor said. “The second-years and third-years, even though they’ve been kind of separated in these past semesters … can come together and just celebrate. … There is a power in just joy and freedom and peace, and to be able to see your neighbors — to see people you haven’t seen in a while — to all be in one place and to enjoy, but also reflect on Juneteenth and reflect on the freedom. The freedom that’s been hard-won and the freedoms that are not there yet, obviously.”

As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on campus a little over a month ago, planning for the gathering was not an easy feat. One of the organizers of the event, College second-year and ABUSUA co-chair of Community and Communication Affairs Jillian Sanford, spoke about the complications of planning during this time.

“We started planning during the spring semester when we didn’t know what the summer semester would look like with the restrictions in place,” Sanford said. “With COVID, things could change very quickly, but [the] administration worked well with us, making sure our needs were met.”

Despite the rapidly changing guidelines, the ABUSUA Board members worked to ensure that a safe event could go forward.

“Things were uncertain and I know my board members and I were just really purposed to make sure that we were able to do at least something for our community — for something to bring us together, something that let us have spaces of joy — just because [it] can be very hard to find … [a space] for the entire Black community on campus and in the community as well,” Nutor said. 

While the Juneteenth celebration will provide a space for Black joy on campus, allies are also welcome at the event. However, Nutor urges these students to also look beyond these types of celebrations when considering their activism. 

“I think this is a really good time for allies and other members of communities to support us, join us and such but I would just like to remind them, this is not just where it ends,” Nutor said. “It’s not just the celebrations and the happy times and the moments of enjoyment that center Black voices that we should be thinking about when …  we should also be ready to help and ready to be allies and accomplices when there are harder moments as well.” 

Sanford hopes that alongside the festivities, the true meaning of the event will be recognized and honored by all who attend. 

“The big freedom day for America is July Fourth, but the big freedom day for Black people is Juneteenth, so I hope people become more aware of the history and the reason for the celebration in the Black community,” she said. “It’s not only about the food and games — I’m also hoping to bring awareness to this day through the event.”