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Bloomington mayor dreams of regional Juneteenth observance

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said he has a big vision for the annual Juneteenth celebration at Miller Park, emphasizing that marking the end of slavery is important for the entire community.

"When you celebrate those things, you make a statement of how much you value those individuals," said Mwilambwe.

Mwilambwe said his own family has always been about public service. His dad was a French teacher who became deputy education secretary and went on to work for UNICEF and the United Nations.

"If you speak to people of African descent, you find a lot have experienced political upheaval in their lives," he said. "There was always talk amongst us about fighting for a better day, getting involved in government for a better day. When I came to the U.S., I (said) someday I'd like to be involved in government because it can do some good for other people."

He said the ethos of Juneteenth inflects that urge. Mwilambwe said he started a push for city involvement in Juneteenth following the George Floyd killing.

Mwilambwe said the event not only celebrates the end of slavery for African Americans, but encourages multi-cultural connections.

"As people get to know about each other's culture, it strengthens the bonds within a community," he said.

The mayor said the event has done some of that in Bloomington, though there is room for growth. He said he has spoken to staff about ways to augment that and broaden the appeal. This year, there will be a jazz band and a gospel group. Last year there was a Rivian EV display.

This year's Juneteenth celebration will be from noon-6 p.m. Saturday at Miller Park in Bloomington

"Eventually this is going to become a regional event. People will be coming from some of the communities around us to attend," said Mwilambwe, adding he hopes eventually there will be a parade added to the observance.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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