This year, Juneteenth, the June 19 celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S., comes at a particularly poignant and painful time in this country, in the midst of ongoing protests against anti-black racism and police violence, sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.
And so, even with a pandemic still raging, Jhamel Robinson, co-founder of Oakland’s BBQ’n While Black, felt it was important to bring the black community together this weekend for a time of celebration and healing — and, perhaps just as important, of sharing good food. So, in collaboration with Queen Hippie Gypsy, a black-owned crystal botanica shop in Oakland, Robinson’s group is throwing a big outdoor party on Saturday, June 20, from 2–5 p.m. at Mosswood Park in North Oakland.
Dubbed “An Unapologetic Juneteenth Celebration,” the event will give the black community in Oakland a kind of “rest day,” Robinson says — a chance to talk and laugh in the midst of all the troubles in the world.
“It’s really about healing and coming together,” Robinson says. “But you know, you can always bring people together around food.”
Robinson is no stranger to using food as an medium to bring black folks in Oakland together: BBQ’n While Black, which has become an annual event, started as a community response to a widely publicized — and quickly meme-ified — 2018 incident when a white woman called the police on a group of black Oakland residents for having a (perfectly legal) barbecue near Lake Merritt. BBQ’n While Black was conceived to be the perfect antidote to that particular form of anti-black racism: A couple of weeks after the incident, the local black community came out in force for a much, much bigger barbecue around the lake — probably thousands of people wound up showing up, Robinson recalls, to throw meat on the grill, play music, and just enjoy one another’s company.
Saturday’s Juneteenth event won’t be quite as big a production, in large part because of the need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Face masks will be mandatory, and participants are discouraged from cooking on-site — though Robinson suspects a few people will bring their own grills anyway, with the intent to pass out free food to anyone who wants it.
In any case, make no mistake: There will be food, provided by Hayward-based catering company the Busy Wife — shrimp étoufeè and grits, barbecue chicken, potato salad, and grilled vegetables, plus, as a vegan option, an arugula and quinoa salad with roasted carrots, golden raisins, and pepitas. And all of that food will be free for anyone who attends the event.
“I think this year with Juneteenth, with all the stuff going on around the country, this is a way for us to get together and love one another,” Robinson says. “We need to love on each other before we can love anyone else.”
For those who can’t make it out to the in-person Juneteenth celebration — or don’t feel comfortable doing so during the pandemic — fortunately, there are also a number of local restaurants and other food businesses that are offering Juneteenth specials this weekend.
Here’s a sampling:
- Miss Ollie’s, Sarah Kirnon’s Afro-Caribbean restaurant in Old Oakland, is featuring a special Juneteenth takeout menu on Friday, June 19, 3–10 p.m., with a la carte offerings like corn succotash, Creole snapper, skillet-fried chicken, collards (with or without ham hock), and peach cobbler for dessert. There will also be rum punch and juleps.
- La Cocina, San Francisco’s women- and POC-focused kitchen incubator, is featuring all black food entrepreneurs in its current, Juneteenth-themed community food box ($100), which features items like gumbo from Boug Cali, greens and cornbread from Minnie Bell’s, and carrot cake from A Girl Named Pinky. A vegetarian version of the box is also available.
- Pinx Catering, the San Leandro-based meal delivery service, has a special $19 comfort food-focused Juneteenth menu — fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, and banana pudding — that’s available for home delivery.