The Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition hosted its first Juneteenth gala to honor community leaders for their contributions to racial equality.

The gala opened Juneteenth weekend to celebrate Black freedom at the Sam Fleming Center of the historic Carnton Plantation — an antebellum landmark of slavery and Civil War significance — so that, where slaves were once systemically oppressed, their descendants could celebrate emancipation and honor community members doing their part to enforce the recognition of the African-American part of Franklin’s history.

The inaugural FJEC Community Award honorees included One Wilco Member and African-American Heritage Society Board member Inetta Gaines, Brentwood Academy sisters Lauren and Kayla Williamson and Community Childcare Director Tara Blue.

The award ceremony also presented a special Legacy Award to Franklin Human Resources Director Kevin Townsend, African-American Heritage Society President Alma McLemore and New Hope Academy Admissions Director Doris MacMillan. Co-Founder of Williamson Inc.’s recently established Black Business Coalition Robert Blair accepted Townsend’s award on his behalf.

“When you leave this place and you see all of this Blackness, you take this Blackness with you, and you understand we are not trying to change the culture,” MacMillan said in impromptu remarks upon receiving her award from FJEC Co-Founder and New Birth Seventh-Day Adventist Church Pastor Bryant Herbert. "We don’t offer bookend prayers. We are who we are; we stand on the backs of our ancestors. We are very proud of our Blackness, and we offer you that soul. As you eat the soul food, be filled up for a lifetime commitment to Black folks.”

The Fuller Story, an at-times contested effort to contextualize a confederate monument with equally indelible reminders of what the confederacy represented, was also singled out for honors, which were attributed to Dr. Chris Williamson, Dr. Kevin Riggs, Pastor Hewitt Sawyers and Eric Jacobson. Community Awards were also presented to Tennessee Holler Founder Justin Kanew and FJEC Board member Dustin Koctar.

Born after the pandemic shutdown countless other events, the event grew out of a similar, pre-established tradition of 17 years originally engineered by the African-American Heritage Society. The gala was meant to commemorate the construction of the Fuller Story project’s unveiling of the United States Colored Troops soldier, which would have occurred this Juneteenth weekend. The statue was not completed, however, so the gala was used instead to present the FJEC’s inaugural Community Awards.

The event featured live music and dancing while catered by Big Shake’s Hot Chicken and Uncle Nearest Whiskey. Tables were positioned indoors and outdoors and named after historic figures like Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

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