Photo courtesy of Issa Minkah

Long before Juneteenth became a federal holiday, a celebration of the rich history of African Americans — and their journey to freedom — was being celebrated in Charlotte.

In 1997, Pape Ndiaye created the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, which is now entering its 26th year.

Each year, the festival includes a drum circle, which Ndiaye said, symbolizes communication between people. The festival also hosts seminars, and health screenings, has lots of food and teaches kids about African culture through mask making, learning how to drum and more. 

Ndiaye, who owns House of Africa, an east Charlotte gift shop that sells African clothing, jewelry and other trinkets, grew up in West Africa before coming to the United States.

Ndiaye moved from Senegal to New York City in 1994, where he opened his location of House of Africa. 

Then, on a trip from seeing the Olympics in Atlanta, he spent a night in Charlotte, N.C.

Two years later, Ndiaye moved to Charlotte and started a Juneteenth festival. 

In Charlotte, he wanted to fill a void. He saw a need to teach African culture and its history. This need encouraged him to begin planning the Juneteenth festival. 

“My grandmother used to say that when you travel, you need to get a direction. Culture and heritage [are] the only directions that can help you move forward,” Ndiaye told QCity Metro. “And that was the idea behind Juneteenth.”

About 10,000 people come out to the event each year, Ndiaye said. 

“[We] are also proud because [our] Juneteenth [festival] has given birth to all the Juneteenth [events] in Charlotte and surrounding areas,” Ndiaye said.

Ndaiye’s festival has grown in attendance over the years, and more people seem interested in celebrating Juneteenth since it became a federal holiday in 2021.

But that growth can come with challenges. 

“I think the greatest challenge is the fundraising necessary to accommodate a lot of what the city expects of us when we do a festival this size,” volunteer coordinator Jocelyn Singletary said. 

Fundraising costs include paying for the stage and sound system and paying the city of Charlotte to close the streets, most of the dollars coming from sponsors and donations.

Singletary, who recruits new volunteers and assigns them to their positions at the festival, has served on the festival’s committee for 24 years. 

Some of the festival’s most significant successes have included giving out one-year college scholarships that include room and board and the unique cultural experience it provides. 

Since its debut, other Juneteenth activities have come about, and Ndaiye is happy that Black culture is being celebrated in so many ways. 

Ndiaye said that he and his team are excited to see the various celebrations of the holiday, citing that though the reason for Juneteenth — which essentially celebrates the ending of slavery — can be a reminder of a “bad” thing, he’s glad that people are coming together in unity.

“Juneteenth is not just an African American holiday, but it is a piece of American history,” Ndiaye said.


If you go

When: June 15-18

Where: 1215 Thomas Ave.

For more information, visit https://juneteenthofthecarolinas.com

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Daija Peeler covers arts, culture, and faith in Charlotte.

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