Troy Sanders grinned as he held the mic.
“I said, I love Black people,” the 11-year-old said, as listeners, including his mother, cheered him on. “And I want this song to change people’s lives, ‘cause it’s gonna be a change.”
“It’s been a long, a long time coming.” He sang the Sam Cook song “A Change is Gonna Come” in the opening hours of Saturday’s JuneteenthKC Heritage Festival in the 18th & Vine Jazz District.
“But I know a change gonna come.”
Troy’s voice, full of soul, seemed to fill the air from a stage set in the grassy area between the Gregg/Klice Community Center and the Black Archives of Mid-America, captivating those nearby.
“Sing it Troy,” his mother, 35-year-old Tabitha Sanders, called out. “Come on, Troy.” After his performance, she wiped tears from her face.
“I’m just so proud,” she said.
Saturday’s event, full of businesses and performers, was Kansas City’s annual heritage celebration.
Juneteenth is the oldest national celebration commemorating the freedom of enslaved people. Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, with news that the enslaved were free.
But on Saturday, dozens of vendors lined up and down the streets and people mingled in the crowd, shopping at Black-owned jewelry stands, Black-owned t-shirt booths and Black-owned restaurants — Black-owned everything.
Days before, President Joe Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday, giving federal and Missouri state workers a paid day off. Texas, in 1980, was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. It’s been celebrated since 1866.
Samuel Brown, 64, and Joyce Burnham, 57, sat in lawnchairs taking shelter from the sun in the near 100 degree heat. They’ve been friends for 38 years. And they come to every Juneteenth celebration at 18th & Vine.
Brown’s favorite part of the holiday is how people come together. He said the fact that it’s now a national holiday means a lot, even though he’s celebrated for years.
Cameron Gentry, after browsing some shirts and choosing two that read “Black Fathers,” said the Black community has been waiting for the acknowledgment for a long time.
“It’s finally really hitting the people in a way that it never has before,” Gentry said. “As our people still fight for justice, we just appreciate the fact that we can be acknowledged as the Black race, African American race, and how we fight for our freedom everyday.”
Shawna Taylor, 51, took a moment to dance to the beat of the drums from Ed “Bucketman” Humes as she walked across East 18th Street. She said he was a drummer when she was in a drill team.
“Today this means a reminder of new beginnings. It means being open to history, what we didn’t get, embracing some new things, our culture our identity,”
The federal recognition, she said, is “a good way to identify the history and say, ‘OK we need to do this.’ And thank you. Thank you! That’s what I would say.”
Back on the stage, Sanders sang.
“Oh, there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long,” his voice rang out. “But now I think I’m able, to carry on. It’s been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gonna come.”
Oh, yes it will.”
The Star’s Jill Toyoshiba contributed to this story.