Telisa Franklin

“Juneteenth is about freedom, and you are free to be whomever you want to be, so just do it baby,” said Telisa Franklin, president of the Juneteenth Urban Music Festival.

The 26th annual Memphis celebration in connection to Juneteenth will be observed at Robert R. Church Park in Downtown Memphis on June 15-17. The outdoor music festival, which Franklin introduced to the celebration five years ago, will have a distinctly Memphis flavor, with an emphasis on local talent.

Juneteenth the holiday commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States and is tied to the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas.

For years, the Memphis Juneteenth Festival celebration was anchored in Douglas Park in North Memphis, where it was founded by the late Glynn Johns Reed, who died on July 6, 2014. Franklin honored her promise to Reed to keep the festival in Douglas Park for two years.

Now a staple event in historic Church Park, the Juneteenth Music Festival is part of a many-pronged observation of Juneteenth. Other elements will include the Memphis Juneteenth Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Evening of the Stars (celebrating children), a job fair and the Urban Music Awards. For more information, visit

During an interview with The New Tri-State Defender on Tuesday, Franklin, who is a minister, showed the passion that many have seen her display as she pursues progress for the community. She shared the challenges of her childhood. Her mother battled a crack addiction and her father was murdered.

Knowing that many others are battling their own life obstacles, Franklin said, “Carry it on baby, don’t you dare stop, keep going. …

“If I can’t walk through it, I’m going to jump through it. And if I can’t jump through it, I’m going to crawl through it.”

In Franklin’s view, the Juneteenth celebration is an opportunity to salute African-American history and take note of what positive moves are being made now.

She sees her work with the festival as a complement to her overall desire to “just serve someone else.”

(Deja Simpson, a rising junior at East Tennessee State College, is an MPLOY Youth Summer Experience program intern at The New Tri-State Defender.)