Credit: Photos By Steve Bohnel

Thousands of county residents and visitors gathered both inside and around the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown as the county hosted its 25th annual Juneteenth event on Saturday.

Dozens of vendors lined the brick sidewalks, selling everything from African artwork to energizing tea. Local bands entertained attendees from the BlackRock outdoors stage, and scores of people enjoyed amenities inside, ranging from an art exhibit by Alonzo Davis, a local artist, to movies celebrating Black culture, dance performances by multiple local groups, and other attractions. 

Juneteenth — which is but was celebrated in multiple events all weekend — is a federal holiday that recognizes the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. 

The county’s Office of Human Rights, along with BlackRock, helped organize the event with dozens of other partners. Germantown resident Fiona Thomas worked as the volunteer coordinator for the event and said she helped direct roughly 100 volunteers for the county’s event.

Jim Stowe, director of the Office of Human Rights, said in an interview that the event has grown substantially since the county began hosting Juneteenth. It has been hosted in a variety of locations countywide, Stowe added.

Saturday’s event was different than those of prior years because county officials and other partners have worked to include more businesses and partners, including the county’s library system, historical society, the American Film Institute and numerous other organizations.

“We want everyone to own this holiday, not just us in coordinating positions,” Stowe said. 

Lynn Arndt, CEO of BlackRock, said that preparing for Saturday’s effort was considerable. 

Arndt added that BlackRock is in the middle of Germantown, one of the most diverse areas of the country. So it’s imperative that  the Juneteenth event at BlackRock reflect that diversity not only in Germantown, but for Montgomery County and the entire area, Arndt said. 

“In a bigger picture, we’re making a statement about the importance of the date … I think what’s really important is that in this space, on that lawn, on this date, we are bringing community together and that’s what I try to do every single day here,” Arndt said. 

“A lot of organizations say they want to reflect their community,” she added. “And unless you actually do things like this, you’re not reflecting that, you’re not being it.” 

Stowe said that he’s hopeful that Montgomery County can continue to champion its diversity in events like the one on Saturday. He added that some communities might struggle to reflect on the nation’s past and the struggles that Juneteenth reflects.

There have been recent challenges, Stowe noted — the murder of George Floyd, recent mass shootings in the country, among other incidents. But he added that he’s seen both older and younger generations come together to champion the diversity and inclusivity of the county.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”38″ display=”basic_slideshow”]Bad news often fills our minds, Stowe said. But events like Saturday at BlackRock can show us at our best, he added.

Thomas, standing in the volunteer headquarters room on the second floor of BlackRock, agreed. Whenever Juneteenth comes up, she thinks of how hard her ancestors and others fought for freedom and views the holiday as an opportunity for all cultures and ethnicities to celebrate these efforts. 

There’s always room to grow, Thomas said — but Saturday’s event marked just how much has been accomplished.

“[It’s] how far we’ve come, and [how] far we’ve still got to go,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot going on in the world — not just African Americans, but all culturally and minority-wise. We still have so far to go. And I just look forward to the country acknowledging more minorities, opening more doors for us, and celebrating everything and all that we’ve brought to this country.”

Juneteenth events were also held in Kensington and at the Macedona Baptist Church by the Bethesda African Cemetery Coaltion.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at