Inaugural West Villages Juneteenth Parade Unites Diverse Suburbs

Elected officials from across the Chicago area ride a float during the inaugural West Villages Juneteenth Parade on Saturday, June 18. The parade processed through Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park and Maywood. | Shanel Romain 

Sunday, June 19, 2022 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Back in 2008, when Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins (then a commissioner) hosted the very first Juneteenth Pool Party, the holiday’s staying power in the village was still an open question. 

“It’s unclear whether Forest Park will embrace Juneteenth in the coming years,” wrote Forest Park Review columnist John Rice in an article praising the holiday, about which he learned from Hoskins. 

“Will we have a parade here and save the mayor a trip to South Shore? Will we have a formal observance, or quiet family barbecues?” 

Fourteen years later, Rice’s questions have been definitively answered and Hoskins, a native of Galveston, Texas, where Juneteenth originated, is looking more and more prescient. 

Senior citizens who live in Maywood’s Garden House apartments enjoy the Juneteenth Parade on Saturday, June 18. | Shanel Romain 

A year after Juneteenth was formally made a federal holiday in the United States, the annual commemoration is perhaps bigger than ever. 

For instance, the U.S. stock markets will be closed Monday, June 20, to observe the holiday — the first time in history, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

More locally, the official Juneteenth flag flies above municipal buildings across the west suburbs, including in Forest Park and Broadview. 

LaSondra Banks, Maywood’s Maywood’s community engagement manager who was on the parade’s planning committee, enjoys the inaugural West Villages Juneteenth Parade on Saturday, June 18. | Shanel Romain 

But perhaps the defining moment that crystallized the holiday’s importance this year happened Saturday, when the villages of Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park and Maywood collaborated to pull off another historic first — a joint Juneteenth celebration culminating in the West Villages Juneteenth Parade.

The parade commenced at Randolph and Brown, coursing west on Washington Boulevard. A float carrying a host of elected officials, including the mayors of the host suburbs — joined by Congressman Danny K. Davis and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi — led the procession. 

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Angelina sits with her sister, Audrey, as they watch the Juneteenth Parade on Saturday, June 18 in River Forest. | Shanel Romain 

The Proviso East Marching Band played music while young dancers from area suburbs strutted in the streets. The parade terminated at Proviso East High School in Maywood, where numerous vendors were staged. 

“This has been a great opportunity for the four villages to get together and plan this event to bring more awareness and education to the communities,” said LaSondra Banks, Maywood’s community engagement manager who was on the parade’s planning committee. 

Banks said the parade is the “first of many we’ll do annually,” adding that volunteering with the committee was a “labor of love.” 

Jewliza Hill with her daughter Laila Johnson, 10, of Forest Park, enjoy the Juneteenth post parade event on Saturday, June 18. | Shanel Romain

Michelle Major, of Oak Park, volunteered to help put together the history exposition on the grounds of Proviso East, which helped frame Juneteenth’s historic importance. 

The holiday marks the June 19, 1865 announcement of Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger’s General Order No. 3, which proclaimed emancipation for the enslaved people in Texas. 

“I think the traveling museum was a great way to center the narrative about today,” Major said. “It not only tells the story that’s often known, but some little known facts and the Illinois connection, and the way white people can celebrate Juneteenth in an authentic way.” 

Members of the Proviso East Marching Band during Saturday’s Juneteenth Parade. | Shanel Romain 

Jewliza Hill, a Forest Park resident, said she felt a responsibility to attend Saturday’s parade, if only for her daughter Laila Johnson’s sake. 

“Before this, I had not participated in a Juneteenth parade or festivities,” Hill said. “With everything that happened during the pandemic, I wanted to make sure I was present for this. I want my daughter to be able to know what’s going on in the world and to see our people and our culture.” 

Shanel Romain contributed to this article. 

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