Kent State Celebrates Juneteenth

Music, food and live performances were part of annual celebration

Music, dancing and food were all part of Kent State University’s lively commemoration of the Juneteenth National Independence Day federal holiday, celebrating the rich history of Black Americans.

The Juneteenth Jubilee was held from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, at Risman Plaza on the Kent Campus, a day ahead of the holiday, as the university will be closed for the federal observance.


“This is our Juneteenth Jubilee. This is an opportunity for us to bring the community together – students, faculty and staff and even our outside community folks – to come and celebrate such a momentous occasion and a very special day,” said Talea Drummer-Ferrell, Ph.D., associate vice president for Student Life and dean of students.

Drummer-Ferrell said she was thrilled with the turnout for the events, and particularly excited to see so many vendors attend, which helped to bring together the university community with the community at large.

Andre Frazier, of Grill Master food truck, cooks ribs and chicken at the celebration.
Andre Frazier of Grill Master food truck, cooks ribs and chicken at the celebration.

Michelle Cobbin was one such community member. Cobbin has owned Christian Edwards Hair Salon in Kent for the past 22 years and was helping the NAACP of Portage County register new members.

Cobbin said her salon is the first Black hair salon in Kent, which she opened after taking part in Kent State’s Small Business Incubator Program.

Cobbin’s father was jailed along with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama, and said she believes it is the duty of the generations who follow to honor the work and sacrifices of their ancestors, by continuing their work to make the community more equitable.

“We have to do right by our ancestors and respect the work they put in,” she said.

Kent State celebrates Juneteenth.
Ego Adigwe sells traditional African clothing at the Juneteenth Jubilee.

Ego Adigwe, who operates Ego’s Kitchen in Cleveland, Ohio, came to Jubilee to sell native African clothing, with her colorful booth displaying dresses, headscarves and jewelry.

“Kent State is like home to me,” Adigwe said, noting how several of her children attended Kent State.

A native of Nigeria, Adigwe said the Nigerian immigrant community in Northeast Ohio helped to steer her children toward Kent State, for its reputation for embracing them and helping them to succeed.

“A lot of the Nigerian community goes to school here,” she said, noting that several faculty members also are close family friends.

Adigwe said her daughter, a registered nurse at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio, earned degrees in public health and nursing at Kent State, while her son, Uche Adigwe, who serves as Zoning and Floodplain Manager for the Butler (Ohio) County Department of Development, received his master’s in public health in 2013, and his bachelor’s in integrated health sciences in 2011.

President Todd Diacon takes part in the Juneteenth celebration.
President Todd Diacon takes part in the Juneteenth celebration.

Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, received the news that the Civil War had ended, and they were now free. Slavery had ended two years earlier, when President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on Jan. 1, 1863, but it took two years before word reached slave populations.  

Taryn Phillips-Smith, a graduate student from Cincinnati, Ohio, working on her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, said she was happy to see the university put on the celebration because it gives the larger community a chance to learn about the holiday. “Especially since it just got its federal holiday designation,” she said.

Phillips-Smith was taking advantage of the food trucks offered at the celebration, along with her classmate, Andrea Brumley, who also is working on a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.  

Students Celebrate Juneteenth.
Graduate students Taryn Phillips-Smith and Andrea Brumley, who are studying clinical mental health counseling, take part in the Juneteenth Jubilee.

Brumley said July 4 had been celebrated for many years, and she was glad to see this National Independence Day finally get the recognition it deserves.

“Especially with the history of this community, with Black History Month starting at Kent State, I think it’s just great,” Brumley said. She added that she was glad that Kent State’s international student population members could attend and learn about the holiday too.

For many years, Black Americans celebrated June 19 as Juneteenth, a name derived from combining June and 19th. Texas began recognizing Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 1980, and by 2020, 47 states and the District of Columbia had recognized the date. In 2021, the U.S. Senate and House passed measures to recognize Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday, which President Joe Biden signed into law on June 17, 2021.

A student celebrates Juneteenth.
A student celebrates Juneteenth on the Kent campus.

This marks the first year that Kent State has hosted its celebration before the holiday, a move that brought a lively crowd of students, faculty and staff to Risman Plaza to celebrate.

Tuesday’s event was punctuated by DJ Smoov music and an interactive drumming workshop by Berhane and Sowande Okantah, who are professionally trained in African music and arts.

Vendors sold various items from baked goods and clothing to paper products and body care items. 

POSTED: Tuesday, June 18, 2024 03:12 PM
Updated: Thursday, June 27, 2024 03:10 PM
Lisa Abraham
Robert Christy