Forest Park mayor Rory Hoskins waves to paradegoers on Saturday, June 18, 2022, during the multi-town Juneteenth Parade throughout Forest Park, River Forest, ending at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

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.

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 were 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 flew above municipal buildings across the west suburbs, including in Forest Park and Broadview.

Speaking of Broadview, the village that made Juneteenth a paid local holiday in 2020 hosted its biggest Juneteenth celebration ever over a period of three days this weekend, with the festivities culminating with a fireworks show on Sunday night. 

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch at Memorial Park in Hillside for the speaker’s inaugural Juneteenth Father’s Day barbecue.

The moment that crystallized the holiday’s bridge-building 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 in Forest Park, 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.

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.”

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.”

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 the reporting.