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Racine celebrates Juneteenth all week

The Pan-African flag was raised at Racine City Hall on Monday. Photo courtesy GeorgAnn Stinson.

Racine is dedicated to celebrating Juneteenth for not only one or a few days as it has in past years, but a full week. Kicking things off on Saturday, June 11th, the Dr. John Bryant Community Center has made a robust schedule of events for attendees of all ages, focusing on education and community engagement.

Lesia Hill-Driver, who has served as the center director and chair of Juneteenth Day for roughly 25 years, shares that planning began back at the beginning of the year. Her goal has been to recruit diverse representatives and provide community resources through various organizations such as Professional Women’s Network for Service (PWNS), Sigma Pi Phi fraternity and Chase Bank.

“Our theme is stronger together,” Hill-Driver said. “The vision was that I find one minority person out of every minority organization and the larger organizations here in the community, and pull them together. And we formed the Juneteenth Day committee. From that point, all the resources in the community became available.”

Lesia Hill-Driver, left, and Annette Washington, right, with comedian B.D. Freeman, a Racine native who will perform at Saturday’s Sneaker Ball. Photo courtesy Annette Washington.

This is the second year that the center has partnered with Chase to host events in celebration of Juneteenth, which Hill-Driver describes as a “wonderful year and beautiful fellowship.” She was introduced to the company through Racine native Caron Butler, who serves as assistant coach of the Miami Heat. Butler frequently works at the community center with the city’s youth. Late last year, he introduced Hill-Driver to Chase’s recent hire, Annette Washington. Appointed to the company in October 2021, Washington serves as the company’s community manager. Her role was created as part of Chase’s $30 billion racial equity commitment, through which the company hired 150 community managers to strengthen community relationships and efforts.   

Hill-Driver and Washington have collaborated in planning multiple events for the weeklong celebration.  Thursday’s main focus will be on financial literacy. Chase will sponsor a home buyer workshop, led by a home lending advisor from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM. This will be directly followed by a session focused on understanding credit, saving, and budgeting. Washington said through these efforts, the company can connect attendees to available grants and home buying programs offered through Housing Resources, which is giving $500 off just for attending the course. 

Washington said Chase will also have an event geared toward older adults, with a focus on creating awareness on potential scams and financial predators. The workshop’s goal is to make sure attendees both understand these threats but also the process and benefits of online banking, so that it does not seem intimidating, but accessible. 

The evening will offer Understanding Insurance-Harper Tax Financial Library, sponsored by Urban League. Guests can also shift to mental and physical wellbeing topics, with a Black Nurses Mental Health & Wellness session, followed by Shhhh Domestic Violence with Karen Simpson, candidate for Maryland House District 3.

On Friday night, Festival Hall will be hosting “A Night to Remember” Sneakers Ball. According to the city of Racine’s official schedule, the ball will focus on “honoring those who were trailblazing over the last 46 years.” The evening begins at 5:30 PM with a reception and social hour, followed by a plated dinner with live jazz, and program. Guests can enjoy the History of Juneteenth with Milton Dockery, Professor of History at Milwaukee Area Technical College, an honoring of nine Juneteenth legends, and remarks by Lesia Hill-Driver and Kevin Thomas, Chase Head of Community & Business Development for the Midwest.

Hill-Driver looks forward to this event in particular, remarking how special it is to “honor those who have in the past 46 years ensured that Juneteenth Day kept going in our communities where other communities stopped and started.”

Saturday morning begins with the NAACP Freedom Walk, followed by two youth sports camps: Caron Butler Basketball Camp and Jimmie Ward Football Camp. Like Butler, Ward is also a Racine native, and plays as a free safety for the San Francisco 49ers. Both camps will host 75 children each. 

12:00 PM will mark the official start of the Juneteenth Day Celebration, kicking off with a Chase-sponsored lunch and a fireside chat with Butler, Ward, Annette Washington and Kevin Thomas. The day will also include an auto show, obstacle courses, face painting, live music, and food/novelty/clothing vendors. 

Washington hopes guests will be positively impacted by the week’s events.

“I want [visitors] to come out to the workshops, watch what is being talked about, learn about it, and then go out there and teach someone, you know, reach back. Have some type of actionable item when they walk away,” she said.

Hill-Driver shares similar sentiments, stating, “My hope is that they walk away empowered, that they’ve been educated about their finances that they’ve learned. . .[I hope] people walk away better than when this event happened, that we’ve proven to our community that we are truly stronger together.”

More details on the week’s events are available at this link.