First Urbana Black Heritage Festival coming Saturday

Kalen Howell Sr., right, was inspired by his late dad Charles (Tim) Howell Jr., left, and the stories of other families in the Black community in Champaign County to launch the first Black Heritage Festival in Urbana on Saturday in Barbara Howell Park, named for Charles' mom. Pictured in the middle is Kalen's brother, Jeren Howell Sr.

Combined ShapeCaption
Kalen Howell Sr., right, was inspired by his late dad Charles (Tim) Howell Jr., left, and the stories of other families in the Black community in Champaign County to launch the first Black Heritage Festival in Urbana on Saturday in Barbara Howell Park, named for Charles' mom. Pictured in the middle is Kalen's brother, Jeren Howell Sr.

Organizers see this becoming an annual event.

The combination of his father’s passing, various national and world events and the urge to capture the feeling of a good porch conversation has led a Champaign County man to celebrate local Black culture and history in time for the first national recognition of Juneteenth.

The first Black Heritage Festival, a family-friendly celebration, will be 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Barbara Howell Park, 213 E. Market St. in Urbana. It is open to everyone and admission is free. Anyone who’d like to attend is encouraged to RSVP at the event website.

Kalen Howell Sr. lost his dad Charles (Tim) Howell last year. Tim Howell was an active member of the Urbana community in various clubs and sports programs, and Kalen Howell had several conversations with those who knew his dad and it helped with his healing but also more.

Those conversations led to his learning more about the community’s other Black families’ stories and the idea of how to preserve these while celebrating them as the current generations’ began to form.

“You hear stories about people you didn’t know about and I got excited,” said Kalen Howell.

He met with area business leaders, some of whom got emotional when hearing his plan and were eager to support it, and raised $14,000 toward the festival. Kalen Howell also had the perfect location ― Barbara Howell Park ― named after his grandmother.

Organizers recently promoted the event by participating in Springfield’s annual Memorial Day Parade.

Being the same weekend that includes Father’s Day and the first year Juneenth is being recognized as a federal holiday on Monday, the Saturday prior was the ideal time to begin what could be an annual celebration.

“It’s about bringing the community together,” Kalen Howell said of the goal for this event. “There’s so much division in our nation. There’s a lot of people dealing with trauma from things like the pandemic. This is about loving, connecting and learning about the heritage of our region.”

The festival will feature several attractions. The day will kick off with an address from Urbana Mayor Bill Bean, and Police Chief Matthew D. Lingrell will lead a surprise unveiling recognizing a prominent Black Urbana community member.

Other highlights include spoken word performances; live music performances including a Unity Choir made up of members of different churches; and a special guest speaker on the meaning of Juneteenth.

There will be food trucks, a live DJ, a dance party, vendors market, a Tim Howell memorial car show, free-throw contest and dunk contest.

At noon, special historic walking tours will go for 45 minutes each hour through 4 p.m. They will go up Market Street, which was a hub of the Urbana Black community in the early 20th century, and include a stop at the Curry School, the first Black school in the city.

Kalen Howell said this will be a good way to gain appreciation for the early Black community in the city. A gallery with artifacts and pictures will also be set up at the St. Paul AME Church at 316 E. Market St. and a heritage connection area will be set up for people to mingle and learn about how to do genealogy.

The full schedule of events and other information is available at www.urbanaheritagefestival.org/.

The Urbana Youth Center, at 160 W. Market St., will have historical presentations and allow for the front porch family feeling for people to converse, according to Kalen Howell. He wants to emphasize Black Heritage Festival is for all people and from everywhere.

“This event is for everybody. Urbana Black Heritage is Urbana Heritage and is for everybody. We wanted to go all out on this first event for everyone to enjoy,” he said.

Springfield to mark Juneteenth Friday, Saturday

Springfield Juneteenth activities will include the first Juneteenth and FatherFest Prayer Breakfast at 9 a.m. Friday at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 34 W. Pleasant St. Admission is free and everyone is invited.

Juneteenth and FatherFest activities begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Gammon House, 620 Piqua Place, and the grounds across the street. Activities will include an in-place parade, several community organization booths, children’s rides, live music, games and food trucks.

FatherFest activities will also be included such as the Good Dads Awards, and tours of the Gammon House and historical exhibits will also be offered..

For more information on Juneteenth activities at the Gammon House, go to www.facebook.com/GammonHouseoh/.


HOW TO GO

What: Black Heritage Festival

Where: Barbara Howell Park, 213 E. Market St., Urbana

When: 10 a.m. to 7:30 5p.m. Saturday

Admission: Free; RSVP requested

More info: www.urbanaheritagefestival.org/