Downtown Pittsburgh will have not one, but two Juneteenth celebrations

PITTSBURGH’S TWO JUNETEENTHS—B. MARSHALL’S JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION IS JUNE 14-16 AT POINT STATE PARK. MAYOR ED GAINEY, RIGHT, ADVOCATED FOR A CITY-SPONSORED CELEBRATION, WHICH WILL BE HELD ON JUNE 29 AT THE GREENWOOD PLAN BUILDING, ON SMITHFIELD STREET. (PHOTOS BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)

Controversy has divided the Black community

 

Let’s give it to you straight—Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey was caught between a rock and a hard place.

Continue to basically “award” longtime Pittsburgh Juneteenth promoter B. Marshall $125,000 for the 2024 celebration after the city did so for 2023, and face the onslaught of other promoters (including those who may have never put a Pittsburgh Juneteenth celebration together), politicians and other watchdogs wonder why B. Marshall was the only private organizer to get Juneteenth money from the city, or “go back on his word” according to many in Pittsburgh’s Black community, hold off on awarding B. Marshall the $125,000 for 2024, decide to start a city-owned, city-sponsored Juneteenth, put out a “Request For Proposals,” and ultimately watch the city choose someone other than B. Marshall get the contract.

Mayor Gainey chose option number two.

PITTSBURGH CITY COUNCIL ASKS MAYOR GAINEY’S CHIEF OF STAFF, JAKE WHEATLEY, QUESTIONS DURING A SESSION, MAY 22. (PHOTOS BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)

But in a question directed to the mayor by the New Pittsburgh Courier during Mayor Gainey’s press conference announcing the city’s Juneteenth “Fusion Fest” celebration scheduled for June 29, Mayor Gainey said he had no choice but to become more transparent with taxpayer dollars when it came to whom the city would award Juneteenth funds.

“We never budget for two years, the budget was only for one year, and that was the (first) $125,000,” Mayor Gainey said. “So after the $125,000 was done, we felt that at the end of the day, we needed to be more transparent because there were always questions as you can imagine. So we had to come up with a new process, one that was more open, and in order to do that, we would have to own it (a separate Juneteenth celebration) in order to put out a RFP (Request For Proposals). So that’s where the change was made.”

The RFP basically asked private event organizers and promoters to send into the city a detailed outline of how they would create a Juneteenth celebration for the city. Three organizers put in their bids, including B. Marshall and Fantasy Zellars, founder and president of Bounce Marketing and Events.

B. Marshall told the Courier in previous interviews that he found it crazy to have to respond to the city’s Juneteenth RFP that was using the money he thought was already awarded to him. But he responded anyway.

He wasn’t chosen.

FANTASY ZELLARS IS THE FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF BOUNCE MARKETING AND EVENTS, TASKED WITH CREATING A SUCCESSFUL JUNETEENTH “FUSION FEST” ON JUNE 29 FOR THE CITY.

Bounce Marketing and Events was.

When the Courier pressed as to exactly why Zellars’ company was chosen over B. Marshall’s, deputy mayor Jake Pawlak stepped in and said that “we’re not able to talk about the specifics of the selection process until the contract is signed.”

NOT HAVING IT—CITY COUNCILMAN ANTHONY COGHILL COULDN’T BRING HIMSELF TO VOTE “YES” TO GIVE $125,000 TO BOUNCE MARKETING AND EVENTS. NEITHER COULD COUNCILWOMAN THERESA KAIL-SMITH. THE VOTE PASSED ANYWAY, 6-2, ON MAY 29.

Public opinion over this issue has divided the Pittsburgh Black community. Some people can’t understand why the mayor would want to start a city-sponsored Juneteenth celebration when there had already been a well-established Juneteenth celebration in Pittsburgh via B. Marshall and his supporter, the POISE Foundation. Other people believed that B. Marshall should not be the only person getting Juneteenth money from the city and applauded the mayor for, at the least, opening it up to a RFP process. Then there’s the people who heard that the city awarded the Juneteenth contract to Zellars’ company, the same company that did the mayor’s inauguration ball in 2022, which sounded a bit…funny.

IN ADDITION TO PITTSBURGH MAYOR ED GAINEY, COUNCIL PRESIDENT R. DANIEL LAVELLE SUPPORTED THE CITY’S EFFORTS TO CREATE A NEW JUNETEENTH. COUNCIL PASSED THE VOTE, 6-2.

Olga George, the mayor’s press secretary, made it clear there was no funny business going on, the “scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” type of business.

“The city did not go to Fantasy,” George emphatically said. “The city put out, as we stated, a RFP for all private event promoters. There was no singular person we reached out to directly to say, ‘we need you to apply for this,’ and I appreciate the media being clear on that, alright?”

“If we are going to be successful in our efforts to transform this city into a city for all, we have to be transparent and this is why we decided to issue a RFP and created a way for Juneteenth to be a city-sponsored celebration, and we have done so in a way that was open to all and transparent to the public,” Mayor Gainey said at his office, May 29. “The new way forward will allow us to create a sustainable path for our celebration year after year. I’m proud that our city has multiple opportunities to celebrate Juneteenth because celebrating Black people free from slavery shouldn’t be contained in just one event.”

When the city announced that Bounce Marketing and Events was selected as the organizer for the city-sponsored Juneteenth event, it had to be approved by City Council. The vote was 6-2 in favor of the selection and the $125,000 going to Bounce Marketing and Events. The two councilmembers who voted “no” were Anthony Coghill and Theresa Kail-Smith.

However, with the controversy hotter than Pittsburgh’s June temperatures, City Council moved to authorize an additional $125,000 for B. Marshall’s Juneteenth event, which is June 14-16 at Point State Park and Market Square. The final vote will likely be made on Tuesday, June 11, three days before B. Marshall’s longstanding event begins.

So now, in theory, everybody’s happy. B. Marshall is most likely going to be awarded $125,000, and the city has its own Juneteenth celebration with Zellars at the helm, albeit 10 days after the official Juneteenth holiday, which is June 19. The city’s event will be held at the Greenwood Plan Building, on Smithfield Street near the Boulevard of The Allies.

Zellars said the city’s Juneteenth “Fusion Fest” that she’s putting together will be a “celebration of Pittsburgh’s rich Black culture and vibrant arts scene. We plan to bring the best in talent, art, fashion, food and dance right to the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh.”

While not all the details have been finalized, the city’s event is most likely going to be a one-day event, June 29, which is a Saturday. The event more than likely will utilize the inside and outside of the Greenwood Plan Building, formerly known as The Pitt Building. The Greenwood Plan Building was chosen for the location in large part to the building being Black-owned as of late 2023.

Zellars said the city’s Juneteenth on June 29 will have a historical walk through Black Pittsburgh, a makers’ market, a spoken word and author experience, interactive activities for kids, health, wellness and fitness, an art gallery and all-day performances. Zellars said Demeatria Boccella was bringing her acclaimed “FashionAFRICANA” live show to the celebration.

With B. Marshall’s event at Point State Park and Market Square being free to the public, along with the city’s new Juneteenth, Pittsburgh’s Black community — and everyone else — has the opportunity to attend both events, given they’re two weeks apart. But ultimately, it will be up to the people to decide if they’ll support one, the other, both, or neither.

PULLING NO PUNCHES, MAYOR GAINEY’S CHIEF OF STAFF, JAKE WHEATLEY, URGED COUNCIL TO SUPPORT THE CITY’S NEW JUNETEENTH EFFORTS.

If you ask Mayor Gainey though, he’ll tell you that it was his intention to make sure the City of Pittsburgh did its part in an official capacity to hold a Juneteenth celebration every year going forward, similar to how the city assures a city-sponsored 4th of July celebration each year. City officials said that come 2025, there will be a similar RFP process to choose which private promoter(s) will curate the city’s Juneteenth celebration (and the money that comes with it). There will probably be more than three organizers putting their hat in the ring, but the city was adamant that come 2025, they’ll only be financially supporting their own Juneteenth celebration, not anyone else’s.

If B. Marshall/POISE Foundation puts their bid in for the RFP for 2025, and they’re not selected, as was the case this year, Pittsburgh will likely have the same situation in 2025 — a B. Marshall Juneteenth, and a city Juneteenth. B. Marshall has no plans to stop his celebration anytime soon, especially after holding the event since 2013 and seeing it grow from 100 people into some 50,000 attendees. His event this year features star artists like Arrested Development, Stokley, Kelly Price and Brownstone. Hip-Hop legend Master P will be in the Grand Jubilee Parade on Saturday, June 15.

After all the controversy, Mayor Gainey, in his remarks, saluted B. Marshall for his Juneteenth efforts.

“I have proudly supported B. throughout the years, as a state rep that helped him to secure Point State Park, and my first term as mayor, I helped him to fundraise to make sure that this event that we call Juneteenth was the type of event that everybody can be proud of. We also eliminated the debt that came along that he owed the city. I want to make sure that I say it again, I want to thank B. Marshall for uplifting Juneteenth. I also plan to continue to support him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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