Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misspelled Dorica Watson's last name. It has since been corrected.
Muncie locals gathered at McCulloch Park July 17 to celebrate Juneteenth with speeches, music, food and games. The event was originally scheduled for June 19, but due to inclement weather, was moved to a new location and date.
Chair of the Juneteenth committee Dorica Watson was joined by Anitra Davis, Muncie City Council representative for District 6. Davis formed the Juneteenth committee last year by reaching out to neighborhood friends to create a celebration of the anniversary of enslaved Black people learning they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865.
Prior to this year, Watson said the Juneteenth celebrations were run by the Health Coalition of Delaware County, but she and committee members said they wanted to take the celebrations to another level.
“The celebration of Juneteenth is not new to Muncie, however, there has been a couple-of-years break in terms of the last organization that hosted it,” Watson said. “Last year, we took up the mantle, we've been running with it and that's why we’re here today.”
Davis said she talked to the committee about needing to revitalize the Juneteenth celebrations. The team decided to reach out to sponsors to make the event bigger by writing letters to send to organizations throughout the city to ask for their help in funding the event.
Davis said committee members used some of their own money to help bring the event together.
“I paid for some of the food and my committee members brought music and chairs and the chips, and they donated all that stuff,” she said.
Watson said the committee was inspired by last year’s celebration, but wanted to make this year’s Juneteenth event bigger with more community involvement.
“We wanted to spend more time making it right and it was great,” Watson said.
The event included games like cornhole, giant Jenga, checkers and bowling for kids and adults. It also included live performances on stage. Individuals could enter a raffle to win prizes of up to a $350 value.
Awards were presented for the Juneteenth essay contest “Why Juneteenth Should Be A National Holiday.” There were three different categories for entries that included students in Muncie and Delaware County in elementary, middle and high schools. The first prize winner was Burris Laboratory School sixth-grade student Eden McCrory, who read her essay on stage before taking home a $100 gift card. Northside Middle School eighth-grade student and runner-up Akayla Foster received a $50 gift card.
William Harvey Dance Academy students performed a routine to Beyonce’s song “Already” from the 2019 Lion King soundtrack. Shemeka Gordon, Juneteenth committee member, read a poem titled “So What if I am a Black Woman?” and others in attendance recited spoken word performances.
Local vendors lined up around the park to promote and sell products, including Malik Perry, Ball State 2011 social work graduate and former football player. Perry owns a clothing brand called “The Negro Athlete” that he started in August 2020.
Perry is originally from Philadelphia, but has lived in Muncie for 13 years. He got involved in the event because his wife, Anita Montgomery, is a member of the Juneteenth committee and he wanted to support the community.
Perry said former athletes will always remain athletes no matter what they pursue in the future.
“I look at ‘The Negro Athlete’ brand as owning my Blackness and owning who I am,” he said.
Perry said his role as a professional for The Negro Athlete is showing young people to be positive and be thankful for their skin color. He said he enjoyed seeing the community come together at the Juneteenth event.
“I think in the past two years, we have seen so much division,” he said. “But even when you come out here and look, it's not just Black people, there’s white people, Latinos and people of all ages as well — the types of people are so broad and come together as one.”
The Muncie Public Library was at the event to promote its reading program. David Westbrook, Ball State 2001 history graduate and former football player, gave out free books to attendees. Westbrook is a horror writer who just moved back to Muncie two months ago from Florida and wanted to reconnect with his community.
“I just wanted to do my part and get back to the community that did so much for me,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook said he didn't know what to expect, but was happy to see diversity at the event.
“It's a very inclusive environment,” he said. “It’s more about education and more about being familiar with different cultures and understanding everyone's story.”
Westbrook said being one of few African American horror writers was something that also motivated him to participate in the event.
“I want to show young kids when they see me, or when you see a tall Black kid that he's more than a basketball player or more than a football player,” Westbrook said. “They can be a writer, they can be an entrepreneur, they can be a CEO, they can be all those things.”