Juneteenth was officially recognized as a national holiday June 17, 2021 – two days shy of the day Texans have long celebrated the day African Americans learned slavery had ended in 1865.
The City of Austin is partnering with the African American Leadership Institute (AALI) to produce the Black X Conference and the return of the Soul Food Truck Fest after a three-year hiatus because of COVID. Black leaders, wealth builders, entrepreneurs and professionals from around the state and beyond will gather in Austin June 17 and 18 to fuse together knowledge exchange, networking and cultural and social programming.
Championed by Austin Assistant City Manager Stephanie Haywood, the partnership seeks “to honor the rich history of African American culture and contributions to our city and beyond,” says Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, the city’s director of economic development.
Because of the late recognition in 2021, 2022 marks the first year many corporations and municipalities are officially celebrating Juneteenth, but Holt-Rabb points out that Austin was one of the first cities in Texas to recognize the holiday as a day of celebration and fund a city-wide celebration, going back a couple of decades.
“It is important for Austin to honor the rich history of African American culture and contributions to our city and beyond,” she says. “These events recognize the impact and legacy of Black leaders and deepen community connections.”
For AALI and its founders, the new national spotlight on the traditionally Texan holiday has provided an opportunity to illuminate all that the city has to offer to Black individuals and families.
“One of the major tenets of AALI’s mission is to help transform Austin as a first-choice destination for Black professionals across the country. Austin has a booming job market, and industries that offer top salaries – why shouldn’t Black folks get to reap the benefits of that too? We are working to develop leaders who can go out and be ambassadors to the city for Black professionals who may be looking to move here, while also working to ensure the city is inclusive and welcoming of them when the arrive,” says BiNi Coleman, who co-founded AALI along with Heath Creech.
The recognition has not been all positive, however. Corporations swiftly sought to capitalize on the day, and Black Twitter roared over Corporate America’s attempts to trademark the term Juneteenth, as well as Walmart’s attempt to market a Juneteenth ice cream flavor. Many Twitter users pointed out that the company’s flavors appeared to rip off the flavors offered by the Black executive chef and founder of the Creamalicious ice cream brand, Liz Rogers.
In light of the controversy, AALI is excited to announce that Chef Rogers will join the Soul Food Truck Fest as a guest judge. The food truck festival will take place Sunday, June 18, and will bring together over 10 different culinary business owners to the campus of Huston-Tillotson University. It will be headlined by Grammy-nominated performing artists the Ton3s, a trio of vocalists who rose to fame as backup singers for Anthony Hamilton.
Soul Food Truck Fest was founded to spotlight Black-owned chefs and promote awareness of the way the foods we choose to eat impact our bodies.
“Part of facilitating a rich environment for Black residents and would-be residents is making sure this is an environment that cares for the whole person, and that includes an emphasis on healthy living and wellness,” says Creech, who also founded the original Soul Food Truck Fest. “Soul Food Truck Fest was founded to spotlight Black-owned chefs and promote awareness of the way the foods we choose to eat impact our bodies. Black people are more prone to conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, largely because of the food options that have traditionally been available to us in our communities. We’re working to shift the narrative and help Black people in our community and beyond take control of their own bodies and make healthy decisions.”
You can find out more about the conference here and the festival here.