Metro Louisville

The air was heavy, hot and filled with barbecue smoke and drum beats as the sun dipped towards the horizon in Jefferson Square Park.

Hundreds were packed into the square in the heart of downtown Louisville, bouncing with the beat, dancing, laughing, and celebrating in a way they haven’t here in this park in a while.

“If you’re listening, I want you to feel this hypeness,” shouted Trinidad Jackson.

Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Jackson acknowledges that the circumstances that have led to this celebration being held in this place are nothing to celebrate. It started when Louisville police officers killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, and this square has been ground zero of sorts for the protests that followed, and intense clashes with police. It’s home to a quickly growing memorial to Taylor, a constant reminder.

But on this night, Juneteenth, he said he’s in a good mood.

“We got people out here occupying what we are calling now Injustice Square, because of everything the government is facilitating that is contributing to the destruction of Black bodies, Black life and Black existence,” he said. “So this is the perfect day to come out and celebrate our existence and liberation.”

Amid the fight, he said it’s important and necessary to find moments like this. Moments of celebration, and of joy.

Lots of people have learned about Juneteenth for the first time this year; it’s not commonly taught in schools, and Jackson says he learned about it from his family. Juneteenth is a day of celebration, marking the day that enslaved people in Texas got word of the Emancipation Proclamation, nearly two years after President Lincoln signed the monumental document.

As the night ticked on people ate, laughed and took photos. Candice Leavell and her cousin Tierra Moorman sat on a ledge watching the crowd.

Leavell saw the joy on people’s faces, and she says it’s joy that comes when people can be themselves.

“This is deeply rooted in us,” she said. “We are getting to be ourselves and have fun and show what it feels like for us to be free-ish in this country.”

She says too often Black people in America have to code-switch, and change who they are to fit some type of false narrative about who they should be.

Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Tierra Moorman (left) and Candice Leavell (right) with friend (center)

Neither Leavell or her cousin are about any of that, especially not today, and you can tell by their matching shirts.

“Today I am Blackity Black Black Black, and I want everyone to know that,” she laughed.

The women saw the recent explosion of attention on Juneteenth and at first they chalked it up to politicians seizing on a moment. But, once they came down to the square they kinda changed their mind. They saw people eager to learn about the history, engage in conversations and share in the joy that is Juneteenth.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.