PHOTO STORY: Niles celebrates Juneteenth with second annual festival

Published 2:10 pm Monday, June 20, 2022

NILES — Community members convened at Plym Park Sunday for an afternoon of friendship, fun and education.

Dozens of people from Niles and beyond attended the second annual Juneteenth We Know Better Project Festival.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans. On June 19, 1865, word of liberation arrived in Galveston, Texas, officially ending slavery in the state. Celebrations of the holiday date back as far as 1866 in some parts of the country, gaining popularity throughout the 20th century. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden named Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The event featured a line of speakers covering topics from mental health to financial literacy to gun violence, the art of song and dance, and more. 

Speakers included Helping Our People Evolve President Beverly Woodson, the Niles High School Culture Club, Niles High School boys basketball coach and youth advocate Myles Busby, financial literacy educator Monique Beck, Niles Community Schools’ Jethrow Kyles, We-ECHO Youth Services founder KC Johnson and Tattoo The World founder Tiara Williams.

Musical acts included Martinez Stephens, Pressure, Pride, Kiah Renee and more.

In addition to the programming, several vendors – most of which were black-owned businesses – participated in the festival. Yadia Underwood, CEO of Yaya’s Lip and Lash, enjoyed being a part of the experience.
“It exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I’m black and Hispanic; I know about slavery and stuff like that but I’m getting to learn more about Juneteenth and what it means to us. It’s just amazing. I’m really lost for words.”

Underwood created Yaya’s Lip and Lash when she was a junior at Niles High School as a way to promote mental health and self-esteem through beauty care and cosmetic products. 

“Growing up, I had trouble loving who I was and the body that I was in,” she said. “My father passed away in 2015 and growing up I always kept asking myself like what was my purpose in life? What did I want to do? I always loved helping other people. so I wanted to create a cosmetics business. … Our slogan is ‘There’s no discrimination when it comes to beauty’. A lot of people discriminate based on how you look, your skin color or how your mindset is but here we accept all and any. We love who loves us.”

Two years later, Underwood has grown her business and is participating in events like the Juneteenth Festival to build her customer base.

“I started by selling lashes out of my grandmother’s basement,” she said. “I learned how to market, how to carry myself and about financing. I created a Facebook page and I have my own website. I also have a community page called ‘YLL Community’. It’s for small businesses, people who want to shop, or just people who need advice.”

For Underwood, participating in the Juneteenth festival goes beyond making sales. While she aims to take her business to new heights, she also hopes to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“I don’t care about the money,” she said. “I could leave here without a dollar and I wouldn’t care as long as I did what I could to put my business out there and meet new people. … I just love hearing people’s stories and stuff like that. I’ve talked to a couple of kids who I went to school with. They’re still in school and they all talked about how they want to start a small business. I told them there’s gonna be obstacles that come up but you gotta give it to god and give it to yourself to just keep going every day.”