10:57 AM / Monday July 22, 2024

15 Jun 2024

Sonni King shares what to look forward to at this year’s 2024 Philadelphia Juneteenth Parade and Festival

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June 15, 2024 Category: Local Posted by:

By Kharisma McIlwaine

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration held to commemorate the end of slavery in America. After President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved Africans in 1862, the 13th Amendment officially abolishing slavery passed in Congress in 1863. It would still take two more years for the word to spread that slavery was no longer legal. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, and Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Pennsylvania, is celebrated each year on June 19. This commemoration has been recognized as a federal holiday since 2019.

Philadelphia, the birthplace of our nation, celebrates Juneteenth with several events. Each year the Pennsylvania Juneteenth Initiative (PAJI) hosts the Juneteenth Parade and Festival. Founded in 2016, it is the largest annual celebration of Juneteenth in the country. Sonni King, executive producer of the parade and member of PAJI, spoke with the SUN about the event’s significance, and what attendees can look forward to this year.

Sonni King, executive producer of the Juneteenth Parade and Festival and member of the Pennsylvania Juneteenth Initiative

PAJI is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing information about the history and significance of Juneteenth. The Juneteenth Parade and Festival was created to further propel that mission.

“It started with my dad Ali Salahuddin, who originally was a part of another organization with Kenny Gamble. They created a board, and on this board was a cultural division.” King said. “He (Salahuddin) was the head of the cultural division and always wanted to do a celebration for Juneteenth and to bring awareness about what Juneteenth was. His idea was to do either a festival or parade, and he actually started the parade. Moreover, it is a cultural awareness [opportunity] around Juneteenth, letting people know what it is, what it means and how we can celebrate it and bring more awareness, especially in the city of Philadelphia, where we’re trying to make that the landmark for Juneteenth.

These events actually helped to push things like making Juneteenth a national holiday.”

The Juneteenth Parade was initially held in Center City before PAJI determined that West Philadelphia would be a better fit.

“It originally started downtown on 5th Street,” King said. “The PAJI, which at the time my dad Ali Salahuddin, who passed, came up with [was based on] the idea that it didn’t really make sense to have a Juneteenth parade in the middle of Center City. So, the thought process was, ‘Where do we move a Black parade where dollars make sense and we’re actually putting money back in the community?’ We decided West Philly was the best fit, and we moved to 52nd Street. If you know, 52nd Street, it is the Black business corridor of Philly. We start at 52nd Street and end at Malcolm X Park, which kind of just made it all make sense.”

As the Juneteenth Parade and Festival continues to expand, PAJI continues implementing new elements. Last year was the first year the Juneteenth Parade and Festival also included a Juneteenth pageant for youth.

“As the years go by, we always want to add components to what we do,” King said. “We are not only a parade and festival, [but] we also give back to our community. So, every year we try to do something different. Last year was the first year we did a school supply giveaway at Global Leadership Academy. We also give back scholarships to some of the Black organizations in Philadelphia, including schools and Temple University’s Charles Blockson Library, which we’re doing this year. We’re also giving scholarships and money to Malcolm X Park. We wanted to include the kids somehow, so the pageant was a clear win. This is our second year and it’s open to children as young as seven and goes all the way up to 18. We give scholarships away, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity for them to be role models. They volunteer in their community, they do community service and they essentially are the face of the PAJI and The Philadelphia Parade and Festival.”

The Philadelphia Juneteenth Parade and Festival is a day filled with activities the entire community can enjoy.

“It’s not only a parade, it’s a festival, it’s a concert and it’s all combined into one,” King said. “We have over 82 organizations joining us this year. We’re normally between 2,600 and 3,000 participants. It’s live broadcasted on 6ABC. It includes non-profit organizations, for-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, Black business, we have dance teams, drill teams, drum lines, marching bands, singers, dancers you name it.”

“We have eight floats this year,” King continued. “We normally theme our floats. We have a Juneteenth float, a Black business float —which is Gary Shepherd’s float — as well as a Blacks in medicine float and a HBCU float. Additionally, the winners of the pageant will join us in the actual parade. Our winners will be carted behind the Juneteenth float in drop top cars with their sashes and crowns. Our floats are usually sponsored and this year our major sponsors are Visit Philly, PA Health and Wellness and the Philadelphia Foundation.”

“The parade starts at the top of where 52nd Street is, right across from The Mann Music Center. This year it’s in the park and we’re on South Concourse,” King said. “People can come see us this year and sit in the grass and watch the parade. We pull off up there and go straight down 52nd Street and we end at Malcolm X Park, where there will be another opportunity for the park and community to see the parade participants before they go off. Once they get to Malcolm X Park, there are vendors in the park, there’s line dancing under the pavilion in the park, there’s yoga and there’s art. We have a youth pavilion this year. We have a game truck. We have a rolling museum which is like a car show this year. So, you’ll see hundreds of beautiful cars lined up before you come down 52nd Street. Then to top it all off, we have a concert that ends with Urban Guerilla Orchestra (UGO).”

The Juneteenth Pageant was held on June 8 at the National Constitution Center. The Juneteenth Parade and Festival will take place on Sunday, June 16 from 12-8pm, beginning at 52nd Street across from The Mann Music and ending at Malcolm X Park at 52nd and Pine.

The event is free, open to the public and tailored to appeal to all ages. For more information on The Juneteenth Pageant and The Juneteenth Parade and Festival, visit: and follow @juneteenthphila on IG and Philadelphia Juneteenth Parade and Festival on Facebook.

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