Jabee Williams and Juneteenth - 405 Magazine

Jabee Williams and Juneteenth

Oklahoma hip-hop artist, actor, and activist discusses the American holiday.

Oklahoma City Hip-Hop Artist, Actor, and Activist: Jabee Williams. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Jabee Williams began planning Juneteenth celebrations almost by accident in 2020. Although Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrating the news of freedom for enslaved people in the United States after the Civil War, its history is not taught in most schools. “My mom taught me about Juneteenth as a kid,” Williams said. “We always celebrated, even if it was a cookout with friends and family. It doesn’t just belong to one group — this is American history, and I want everyone to know and celebrate with us now.”

Juneteenth celebrations had been happening in our state for years. Williams remembered, “Washington Park had one that has been going on for years, and when I was a kid, there was one on 23rd by the library. But in 2020, things were shut down for COVID.” He and some friends threw a block party to celebrate the holiday, and that’s when he realized that he could continue to organize these celebrations in his neighborhood on NE 23rd every year. In 2021, Williams began calling in hip-hop musicians and friends, asking them to join him in a concert and festival for Juneteenth. “We try to bring in artists that have never been to Oklahoma before, that you might have to go to Dallas or Atlanta to see.”

Juneteenth commitee in front of Juneteenth mural. Mural artist: Tony Thunder. Committee members: Brandi Jones, Nathaly Ramos, Ashley Combs, Monet Evermore, Elizabeth Bowen, Dana Beach, Sunni Taylor, Dashari Miller, David Conkerite, Krista Rice, Marie Casimi, Bek Barkocy, Jabee Williams, Chaya Fletcher. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Williams and the committee have received offers to host the event in other places, but he said it was important to him to center the celebration in Oklahoma City’s Eastside community. “When you have a community that has been deprived of so many things, underfunded, under-resourced, food apartheid, one event can raise the economic value and morale of a community.”

In addition to the concert, Juneteenth includes the creation of a permanent mural for the community every year as well as a 5K run the day before. Williams is excited about the success of the 5K and how it has grown over the past few years. “We have 800 runners already signed up for the 5K. To see 800 people running through the east side of OKC, and people coming out on their porches to wave and cheer — that’s transformative. It gives you a sense of community and changes the landscape in a good way.” 

Jabee Williams. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.

This family-friendly festival has activities for children, and Williams specifies that all are welcome. “On the committee, we have a lot of people of all races working together to plan this. This is not just for Black people, but for everyone. It’s so wonderful to go to an event where there are a sea of people who don’t look like one another, but they are all there to celebrate the same thing: the freedom and liberation of a group of people.”

OKC Juneteenth Festivities:

Jabee Williams also owns a local pizza restaurant! Click here to learn more about his endeavor with Eastside pizza.