515 Manifestival: A Juneteenth And Pride Month Celebration
"Don't make me close one more door
I don't want to hurt anymore
Stay in my arms if you dare."
Alexandra St. James Gray practiced singing lyrics from Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing," before her performance at the first 515 Manifestival in downtown Des Moines on Saturday. People listening around her clapped and cheered her on.
Since the festival was part of Juneteenth celebrations, St. James Gray said the songs she chose to perform emphasize Black history in music.
"It's acknowledging the shoulders of the people that you stand on," St. James Gray said.
The festival focused on highlighting underrepresented entrepreneurs like Black and brown business owners and artists as well as members of the LGBTQ community. For St. James Gray, this event allowed her to combine multiple aspects of her identity.
"I think for me, sometimes when you navigate the world at different intersections, sometimes things get shut down," St. James Gray said. "There are times in the world where I have to remind the world, I'm Black first, and then everything else comes after that. But this is one of those moments where those two avenues meet."
Entrepreneurs, small business owners and artists lined the streets with their booths to market their products and services.
One of the creators of the event, Buffy Jamison, who uses they/them pronouns, walked among the vendors, making sure they each had what they needed for the day. Their long hair flowed behind them in the heat. Artist Indigo Moore co-created the 515 Manifestival.
"We know that these are the populations that have always been marginalized in this society, and it's super important to have spaces for us, that are specific to us," Jamison explained in a previous interview with IPR.
Volunteers from multiple organizations, including the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition, followed behind Jamison as they directed performers.
Personal trainer Mikal Settle, his brand is Blaise Training Never Settle, stood in his booth surrounded by work out equipment. He said it means so much to be part of the first federally recognized Juneteenth.
“Years from now, you'll be able to look back on and be like, man, I was a part of this day, the first day of the national holiday, you know what I mean?" Settle said. "It's something that means a lot to me right now, but I’m probably able to look back on this five, ten years from now and be like, man. Look where I was at, and now look where I am."
Settle said he wanted to take the opportunity to show other Black and brown children they have options for their futures, other than "entertainers, sports or hopefully not go to jail."
St. James Gray also focused her outreach and performance on reaching young Black and brown people.
“As a proud person living out, it's about visibility. And so what I want is for black and brown queer children to see somebody like me and know that you can be whomever you wish, you can live however you want. You can live openly, you can be seen," St. James Gray said.
Kalina Kmett, 13 and her brother Keaton,11, said they did learn about Black history and culture at the event. They usually attend the Hispanic Heritage festival, but they said they wanted to "try out" the new 515 Manifestival.
Kalina explained the history of Juneteenth, which was the day slave emancipation news reached Texas furthermore, when it was more readily recognized in the country. The Emancipation Proclamation was declared a little more than two years before that.
"It's a new [federal] holiday, people should learn about it," Keaton added.
Although Jamison said the festival had a focus on Black artists and entrepreneurs, Latinx artists were also encouraged to submit applications to perform. Matthew Marroquín came from Storm Lake to perform spoken word and poetry. He sent in his video application last month.
"It's been so long since I've had a live performance in front of a big audience. And just people of all places like, I mean, I haven't been in a live performance setting in a very long time," Marroquín said. "Especially since it's outside of my hometown, outside in more metropolitan area."
Marroquín emphasized spoken word and poetry has a long history within Black communities and culture, citing its prevalence in the abolition and civil rights movements. He said he was honored to be included in the festival.
"It's really about a day about them. So I'm just really happy that I'm allowed to be able to perform among this festival," Marroquín said.
Jamison and the other organizers thanked all the sponsors that made the festival possible, including Capital City Pride. They said they want the 515 Manifestival to be an annual event for every year's Juneteenth celebration.