From Setback to Progress: Leveraging Lessons from Toledo’s Canceled Juneteenth Celebration

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible – and there is still so much work to do.
Barack Obama

Union General Gordon Granger’s arrival in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, with the stalled news liberating the last enslaved African Americans fully two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, makes Juneteenth a profound symbol of both liberation and the continuous struggle for true equality. ​​

The renowned delay also underscores the slow and uneven implementation of progress and change while highlighting the amount of work that remains to be done.

Likewise, in 2024, a group known as The Toledo Juneteenth Celebration Committee planned to honor this significant historical moment with a grand event at Promenade Park. Their aim was to create a day filled with community engagement and cultural celebration.

However, despite the best intentions, the festivity faced significant challenges, resulting in its cancellation. Low ticket sales, inadequate marketing, and logistical hurdles transformed what should have been a celebration into a lesson in event planning and execution​.

The decision to hold the event at Promenade Park was driven by a rosy desire to elevate the celebration to a more prominent venue, transitioning from Walbridge Park, a smaller and more familiar setting where the event had thrived since its inception four years ago.

Despite the committee’s ambitious aspirations, the event’s $30,000 budget, though impressive, was outpaced by the larger venue’s demands for staging, security, and amenities​​.

Marketing, a cornerstone of event success, was also insufficiently addressed. With a meager $2,000 in sponsorships allocated for promotion and planning that began just a few months before the event, efforts to build momentum and visibility were woefully skimpy. This lack of a robust marketing strategy resulted in only 92 tickets sold, a far cry from the turnout needed to justify the expenses​.

Yet, former President Obama’s reflection on Juneteenth as a celebration of progress rather than victory underscores the importance of learning from these shortcomings to drive meaningful change.

The entertainment choices further revealed a disconnect between the event’s ambitions and its execution. Promenade Park, a grand venue, requires high-profile artists to attract a significant audience willing to pay much more than the event organizers’ $25 ticket price. Unfortunately, the chosen performers for the celebration were seemingly more aligned with the Walbridge Park locale and did not resonate strongly enough with a Promenade crowd, contributing to the underwhelming ticket sales.

Selecting artists who meet the venue’s expectations is essential for attracting the target audience and boosting the event’s appeal. Unfortunately, from the outset, the affair was doomed to end up in the red.

Flexibility in planning emerged as another crucial area where the event fell short. Despite early indications of potential problems and opportunities to modify plans—such as considering alternative venues like Ottawa Park (which was made available) or scaling down the event—the organizers remained firmly committed to their original approach​. This rigidity, coupled with logistical issues such as the lack of a stage and essential equipment, and the impact of unexpected weather, including an unusually hot week in Toledo, also contributed to the event’s cancellation. This situation underscores the need for adaptability, contingency planning in event management, and the importance of proper lead time so preparations can begin well before March, April or May for a June event.

While the cancellation was disappointing, it provides valuable lessons for future Juneteenth celebrations. Matching the venue to the event’s scale and budget, investing in comprehensive marketing and promotion, selecting appropriate entertainment, and maintaining flexibility in planning are essential components for success​.​ These lessons, when applied, can lead to more impactful and successful future events, honoring Juneteenth’s historical significance while fostering a local spirit of progress and unity.

Despite these challenges, the organizers remain hopeful and determined. A board member, Cora Middlebrooks, expressed resilience in her interview with WTOL, stating, “This didn’t break us down… We look forward to next year. I’m unsure where it’ll be, but we look forward to doing this again.” Her words reflect an unflinching commitment to honoring Juneteenth’s significance and improving future celebrations.

In the end, the organizers’ dedication to commemorating such a meaningful holiday is commendable. Their efforts underscore Barack Obama’s insight that effective celebration and remembrance are ongoing processes.

By embracing the lessons learned from this year’s setbacks, Toledo’s future Juneteenth and other cultural celebrations can not only become more impactful and successful but also more closely aligned with the spirit of progress, especially the ongoing journey toward equality and justice.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at