When then-village commissioner Rory Hoskins launched the Juneteenth Pool Party in 2009, many Forest Parkers and west suburbanites in general had no idea what Juneteenth even was – but he said it was embraced pretty early on.

“A lot of the old families in Forest Park that didn’t necessarily know this tradition were very accepting,” Hoskins, now the mayor, said.

He grew up in Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, Union army general Gordon Granger announced that all those who had been enslaved were now free. In a 2021 documentary released by the Forest Park Juneteenth Committee, the mayor recalled, growing up, he didn’t think much about the holiday. But after he moved away from Texas and started raising a family of his own, Hoskins realized it was something he wanted to share with his children. 

He decided to hold the party at the Forest Park Aquatic Center, 7501 Harrison St., because public pools were some of the last public spaces to be integrated.

Hoskins recalled he got support from the Park District of Forest Park, Forest Park School District 91, Forest Park Bank officials and other elected officials, including fellow village commissioners. Cong. Danny Davis (D-7), who, having grown up in Arkansas, was familiar with the holiday, supported Hoskins bringing it to Forest Park.

“I think he was surprised to see it take root in Forest Park,” Hoskins said.

Since then, the pool party has become an annual tradition that only got interrupted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the party took place on June 10 starting at 6:45 p.m. The party featured music and free hot dogs and chips. 

Hoskins said he was proud the pool party was recognized as the longest-running Juneteenth celebration in the western suburbs. He reflected that it was something that he wanted everyone in Forest Park to embrace and take part in.

“It appeals that the community really embraced this tradition, and I think it means something to kids in this community, and to the parents,” Hoskins said. “Kids from all backgrounds can take part in this tradition that may be new to the [west suburban] region, but an old tradition in the country. It’s very beautiful. Very special.”