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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Madison's south side celebrates Juneteenth Day at Penn Park
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Semaj Graham shoots while playing 5-on-5 during the Neighborhood Intervention Program's basketball tournament.
Credit:Kait Vosswinkel

As jazz music drifts across the Penn Park Saturday afternoon, it seems like the entire south side of Madison is mobilizing to celebrate Juneteenth Day.

Although the historic remembrance of the emancipation of African American slaves has been celebrated for over 100 years, it carries a fresh and personal meaning in Madison. Today, for many south side residents, Juneteenth also commemorates a local transition, as the community shows progress in its fight against economic instability and violence. Richard Brown, a local volunteer, has been active in the community for decades, and says the atmosphere around the neighborhood near Penn Park has improved.

"There used to be fights and all kind of stuff, and then I think the community just kind of embraced it," says Brown. "Now, it's almost like we can have a good time without having trouble."

Charles Hill, another active member in the community, believes that events like Juneteenth are part of the south side's turnaround.

"Every year we come together with bigger and better things," Hill says. "It brings out the best of this community."

The Juneteenth board of directors and the Kujichagulia - Madison Center for Self-Determination played a primary role in planning the event, but in crafting a truly community-based celebration, dozens of local businesses, non-profits, artists and volunteers participate. One of the many active groups at Penn Park on Saturday is the Neighborhood Intervention Program and Stephen Blue, a volunteer, helped organize a basketball tournament highlighting the program's after-school opportunities and its work in the community.

"This is really one of the activities that can be a touchstone for kids in terms of moving them in a positive direction," Blue says. "It assists families who might have to work a lot, and who don't have the luxury of spending as much free time with their kids."

UW-Madison student athletes likewise joined in the celebration, playing basketball with neighborhood kids. Other groups like UW-Madison's First Wave and End Times Ministries International perform spoken word and dance.

The Madison Police Department is also out in force during the sunny Juneteenth celebrations. According to Lt. David Jugovich, events like Juneteenth Day play a crucial role in changing perceptions about the south side.

"The Madison Police Department is a proud partner with this event and we have a lot of fun with it," Jugovich says.

Although the transition towards a more peaceful, prosperous neighborhood is a slow process, Jugovich believes that through collaborative events like Juneteenth Day and community support, positive change is a reality for communities on the south side of Madison.

"It's because of partnerships like this that change is possible," Jugovich says. "Events, community gatherings and the community support is critical in changing the atmosphere of a neighborhood."

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