Free Juneteenth Festival Saturday at TMBC at Lincoln Center, Davenport
Open since Feb. 1, 2021, TMBC stands for “Together Making a Better Community,” and the free Juneteenth event will be 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, including food and retail vendors, history and information booths, fun-filled games and entertainment for the whole family.
TMBC is the hub for resources, professional services, programs and events for the African-American community in the Quad-Cities. The Juneteenth festival is presented by The Friends of MLK, Inc., which last held the event in person in 2019 at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, with a virtual version in 2020.
“What we want to do is bring light to the human and civil rights for everyone, right?” Ryan Saddler, CEO of Friends of MLK, said recently. “We obviously probably could have gone back down to the river, but we wanted to support what TMBC is doing and we hope it brings a little bit of light as to who they are and kind of what businesses, organizations are inside. It’s about lifting everyone up.”
Juneteenth (a combination of “June” and “19th”) is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official Jan. 1, 1863.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to make June 19th a federal holiday; it must pass the House before President Biden signs it into law. Illinois last month became the 47th state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.
If signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, the law would give a paid day off for all state employees and a school holiday. It states that if June 19 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday will be observed the following Monday.
The Friends of MLK is a non-profit corporation working to empower and encourage the Quad-City area to practice the civil and human rights for all races, colors, and creeds as exemplified by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Saddler – who works as associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at St. Ambrose University, Davenport – said it’s fitting to bring Juneteenth to the new community center at this roiling juncture in history, amid the end of Covid, heightened race awareness, Black Lives Matter, income inequality, and nationwide voter suppression efforts.
“This is a pivotal time that we’re living in, that I don’t know what it’s going to be called,” he said. “It’s going to have a name and we’re taking part in it. And so this looking for people to take part in this, to celebrate, see what TMBC has to offer and then the main thing is supporting
our community and those vendors that’ll be there and learning what else is going on in our community, positive things.”
“We can’t deny our history,” Saddler said of slavery and its abolition. “And we can’t take away what America has been. And I think that is what is really at the forefront here, is to really look at our history. So otherwise we will repeat it.”
“If we continue to neglect to learn our history, we then we continue to deny something as a serious and egregious as slavery and we change it to what some are trying to say it was indentured servitude, and we know that it’s not,” he said.
“We can’t deny that slavery was real, but also we can’t deny that not everyone who was Black was enslaved and not everyone who was white was an enslaver. It is more complex,” Saddler said.
“It’s the fact that we’re still talking about voter rights, still talking about voter suppression,” he said. “We’re still talking about the rights of human beings to exist with everyone else. That’s what the Black Lives Matter is, in essence.” Better understanding our history will make everyone “more conscious of, aware of who we are
and where we should be going, and our potential as a country, as a people,” Saddler said.
Since the 1980s, Juneteenth celebrations were typically held in LeClaire Park in Davenport, and Friends of MLK took over the hosting duties about six years ago, when United Neighbors closed, said event coordinator Tracy Singleton, executive director of TMBC at Lincoln Center. Juneteenth moved to the fairgrounds in 2019 because of that spring’s flooding downtown.
Friends of MLK works “to bring light to civil rights for everyone,” Saddler said. “We wanted to host at TMBC, to support what TMBC is doing. We hope it brings little bit of light to what they are.”
Juneteenth sponsors include Family Resources, Davenport Public Library, Scott County Democrats, Davenport SuperTarget, Iowa American Water, Scott County Health Department, The Project of the Quad Cities, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, Davenport Parks & Recreation, KALA-FM, Ascentra, SCORE, St. Ambrose, the Diocese of Davenport, and LULAC.
Controversial sale to community center
The creation of the TMBC Lincoln Resource Center by Davenport’s Third Missionary Baptist Church (TMBC) ruffled some feathers when the building sale was approved by the Board of Education in 2019.
The Davenport School Board violated the Iowa state constitution when it sold a former school to a non-profit organization, according to State
Auditor Rob Sand after looking into the sale of Lincoln Elementary School to Together Making a Better Community, an affiliate of Third Missionary Baptist Church.
Sand said the board agreed to sell it for $30,000 and turned down a much higher bid, for $290,000 from a private developer.
“There’s a clause in the Iowa Constitution that prohibits public funds, taxpayer dollars, from simply being donated to non-profit organizations,” he said this past April. “If you’re going to sell a building at hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what it’s worth, when you have other bids available, that’s essentially a donation you’re making to a non-profit.”
Not only did the board lose revenue by turning down the higher bid, selling to a non-profit meant the property would be tax-exempt and the school district would lose that potential revenue as well, the state found.
Singleton recently defended the Lincoln School sale, saying it serves urgent local needs, and the city itself bought another vacant school – the former Roosevelt Elementary – for just $1 in 2000, renaming it the Roosevelt Community Center. “I don’t remember any state audit for that,” she said.
“Right now, we have space and I’m going to continue to fill the space – creating opportunities, developing programing, hosting events, and eventually we’ll get to a space where people know we mean what we say and we say what we mean,” Singleton said of the three-story Lincoln Resource Center, which has 20 tenants.
“It is important for Black people to have a space in the community in which they reside – that they have services, programs and resources developed just for them,” she said. “You have within these walls a community that cares about your success.”
Singleton met with the Third Missionary church board in July 2020 and was hired for the new unpaid position in September.
“I believe so much in what you’re trying to do and what this could mean for our community, that I will be a volunteer and at some point in time, when the money comes, I’ll be OK,” she said.
“I feel like everything that I’ve been through, the whole United Way situation and that being so public, it prepared me for this,” Singleton said, noting she was the first manager of United Way’s African-American Leadership Society. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I had to go through those other things to get here.”
“From day one of me being a volunteer here, I haven’t missed a beat,” she said, noting she hasn’t had a regular paycheck since January 2020. “All of our bills are still being paid.”
She also got married last September to Benny Singleton, who is a digital press operator for an Iowa City advertising business.
“I truly believe that this is something our community needs,” she said. “The goal was to have our grand opening in February for Black History Month.”
They did a virtual launch, as Covid was too much of a risk to have the public in the building, so they still haven’t had an official opening. The building tenants include a variety of businesses, organizations and nonprofits. After 3:30 weekdays, there are usually about 70 kids in the building, including a boxing club, two dance programs, an after-school program and two basketball teams.
“We did receive some funding from the Covid-19 fund through the Community Foundation,” Singleton said. They used that grant for 10 students during the school year to do remote learning from the center, including online tutors from Augustana College.
The center welcomes teens Saturday mornings (10:30-12:30), to help them with mental health coping strategies, including dance therapy, she said. They also have done yoga, journaling and art therapy.
“I would love to see bigger numbers, but at this point we’re just working with what we have,” Singleton said. “Even if we’re helping just one, we’re doing a good job.”
She has coordinated Juneteenth for six years, since Friends of MLK has hosted the event. Singleton and Saddler serve on the QC Empowerment Network together, and he wanted to continue the event after United Neighbors closed.
Singleton, 51, didn’t really learn about Juneteenth until she was in her late 20s, putting together a Black history program.
“They didn’t teach that around here,” she said, noting she was the only Black kid in her west Davenport neighborhood.
Last year, the remote event was held from Friends of MLK’s building at 501 Brady St., aired over Facebook Live. It held greater urgency last year so soon after the George Floyd murder, and nationwide protests, Singleton said.
“I’m excited that it’s here, because there’s so much significance to this building and to the community, to have this event here just kind of elevates that significance,” she said. “For the Lincoln Center, our goal is to be the hub for the African-American community – that resources, programming, services, events happen out of here.
“To have Juneteenth here as the first big, significant event post-Covid, for the community, it’s just a blessing,” Singleton said. Eventually, she’d like to have a first Friday night kind of event, where the tenants would all be open at the same time, to show the public what is available.
“When you’re able to engage and educate, you’re able to start an understanding,” she said. “A lot of the things happening nationally are happening locally – we have police brutality here; we have shootings here; we have murders of young Black boys here.”
“It’s imperative we work together as a community, because we can’t do it by ourselves,” Singleton said. “Juneteenth for me, it’s not a Black event – it’s a community event with a focus on Black history. Black history is American history.
“American history wouldn’t be what it was if not for Black history,” she said. “If we get the community to come out and learn, I was 28 before I learned about Juneteenth and I’m Black. So how many people don’t know the history behind Juneteenth?”
“Even after we were so-called free, we were still treated as second-class citizens,” Singleton said. “It was separate but equal; equal was not equal. It wasn’t equal with jobs, education, purchasing homes.”
“I know it’s important for the African-American community and I know it’s definitely a good cause to be a part of, just keeping the history of
it alive,” he said. Banks was part of the Adler Theatre Foundation concert June 5, headlined by Amythyst Kiah.
The Lincoln Center will soon include a walk-in clinic, food pantry and business center (for people to use Wi-Fi, computers, printer and copier), Singleton said.
One of the building’s main tenants, Azubuike African American Council for the Arts, will have artwork on display for sale and activities during Juneteenth on Saturday.
On Monday, June 21, Azubuike will have an online information session about its Urban Exposure film program at 6 p.m., via Zoom and Facebook Live.
To attend the virtual recruitment and information session, email email@example.com. The film program starts July 12 and ends on August 30. Classes are M/W/F, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This year’s class will be conducted in hybrid style, with virtual lectures and in-person cinematography and editing instruction.
If selected, the program is free to the participants. There are two categories of program participation, Filmmakers and Film Apprentice. There are only six filmmaker slots available. Everyone else is considered an apprentice. Interviews will be scheduled to determine student placement. This year, Azubuike is offering a $300 stipend to students in the Filmmakers category.
For more information on TMBC, visit www.facebook.com/tmbcatthelincolncenterdavenport.