Juneteenth, which is also known as Emancipation Day, commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States in 1865. President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in 2021, establishing June 19 a federal holiday.

Celebratory Juneteenth gatherings are becoming more popular in communities around the United States, including Annapolis, Maryland. Phyllis “Tee” Adams was the visionary and founder of Annapolis’ inaugural Juneteenth celebration that was held on June 19, 2021. An educational component was built into Annapolis’ emerging Juneteenth presence.

“One of her [Adams’] supporters has been Bishop Craig N. Coates, creator of “Freedom Way,” the educational exhibit centered around Juneteenth. He served as fiscal agent in 2021 and all-around support to the vision in 2022,” according to details provided on Celebrate Annapolis Juneteenth Corporation’s website.

Coates said that he created “Freedom Way,” a 24-panel visual and audio examining African American enslavement and liberation presentation documenting from 1619 to the present.

Bishop Craig Coates (left) prays before the libation ceremony as a part of the Annapolis Juneteenth Festival in 2021. Coates is the new CEO of Celebrate Annapolis Juneteenth. Phyllis “Tee” Adams, the visionary and founder of Annapolis Juneteenth, (middle) joins Coates and Pastor David Hicks of Faith Impact Church of Virginia Beach, in prayer. The Annapolis Juneteenth Celebration will return on Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Photo credit: Luke Thompson Photography

“I believe that most people, though they celebrate Juneteenth now, they don’t know some of the details about the road of progress and why the celebration really should be bigger than the Fourth of July. The Fourth of July does not celebrate freedom for everyone in the United States of America,” Coates said.

Coates is picking up where Adams left off. He is now the CEO of the Celebrate Annapolis Juneteenth Corporation.

“For two years, “Tee” Adams, who was the visionary, was the person that was piloting this and last year she decided to retire. She handed over the reins to me, so I formed a nonprofit and am continuing the traditions and just growing it [the Celebrate Annapolis Juneteenth Festival],” Coates said.

In addition to an upcoming 2023 parade and festival, a pop-up shop was added at 1910 Towne Centre Boulevard, suite 103. The Annapolis Towne Center is a sponsor this year. Coates remarked that through the pop-up shop, the Celebrate Annapolis Juneteenth team can increase awareness about the event, sell Juneteenth tee shirts and showcase the Freedom Way Exhibit ahead of the festivities. Coates said that it is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. 

The third annual, formal Annapolis Juneteenth VIP Gala will be held on Friday, June 16, 2023 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland. The ticketed event will offer entertainment, dancing, a buffet, a celebration of culturally rich history and a chance to honor minorities in the community.

Annapolis Juneteenth Celebration will return on Saturday, June 17, 2023 with a free, public event that will include a parade, over 175 vendors, food for sale, a hair fashion show presented by the Bald Bosses, entertainment and a chance to see Coates’ “Freedom Way” exhibition.

“The festival itself will kick off at roughly 1:30 p.m. with a battle of the bands on the field following the parade, and then at 2 o’clock the big stage will have entertainment— every genre from jazz and gospel to R&B and a special 50-year tribute to hip hop featuring Rakim from out of New York,” Coates said.

Rakim will perform in addition to Le’Andria Johnson, a gospel artist and Grammy Award winner; Beverly Crawford, another well-known gospel singer; Vivian Green, a R&B sensation; Bela Donna Band; Lil Syxx, a positive lyrics only rapper from Baltimore; and other performers will grace the stage this year.

Several new additions have been added to the day’s schedule, according to Coates.

“This year we are launching a village called Watoto Children’s Village. Watoto is Swahili for children.  Watoto Children’s Village will have resources for children to thrive. So, we will have kid’s businesses; we will have schools rallying to support our kids; mentoring programs; fraternity organizations and sororities; game makers; and entertainment. You name it, we’ll have it,” Coates said.

The parade will kick off at 11:45 a.m. at the Annapolis City Dock with a libation ceremony at the Alex Haley Memorial. At 12 p.m., the parade will make its way up Main Street and down West Street to the festival at 1:30 p.m. at the Bates Athletic Complex, located at 935 Spa Road in Annapolis, Maryland. Fireworks will close out the event at 9:00 p.m. Volunteers are still needed to help with setup and break down of the Watoto Children’s Village. Email info@theannapolisjuneteenth.org to send a message about volunteering. Visit theannapolisjuneteenth.org to obtain more event details.

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