Juneteenth isn't a marketing event

·10 min read

Having been raised in metro Atlanta by two Nigerian immigrants, and in a neighborhood that was predominantly Black, I didn't know what Juneteenth was for a better part of my life. The African diaspora and our experiences vary greatly and, in my case, the true awareness of Juneteenth didn't come until about 2019 and I didn't celebrate it until 2020.

I know that for many, the racial reckoning that happened in 2020 opened a lot of eyes to the history of injustice in this country and the importance of teaching African American history. Juneteenth was one of the facets of this history that many leaned into, whether genuinely or by a show of performative activism.

Hundreds of gatherers head into the water during Tybee Island Juneteenth Celebration.
Hundreds of gatherers head into the water during Tybee Island Juneteenth Celebration.

My first time celebrating Juneteenth was done in the only way I knew how -- by supporting everything Black. Two of my best friends and I grabbed food from two Black-owned restaurants in Atlanta, Mangos Caribbean Restaurant on Auburn Avenue and Sublime Donuts on 10th street. We then went to a drive-in theater to watch Miss Juneteenth starring Nicole Beharie.

Two years later and I'm still trying to figure out what celebrating Juneteenth means for me. However, I know it doesn't mean buying branded products from big corporations who hope to commercialize and profit off a day that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African-American people while never investing in the Black community itself.

You can't treat every holiday as a 'holiday.' Finding ways to acknowledge Juneteenth in an authentic way important.

— Laura Nwogu, quality of life reporter at the Savannah Morning News

Follow me on Twitter at @lauranwogu_ or email me at LNwogu@gannett.com

Pulse of the 912

Joshua McCray is the owner and founder of the vintage clothing and streetwear shop Off the Wave.
Joshua McCray is the owner and founder of the vintage clothing and streetwear shop Off the Wave.

Joshua McCray is all about providing culture to the city and he's doing it one piece of vintage clothing at a time. I chat with the owner and founder of Off the Wave about giving back to the community, the culture of shopping vintage, finding your style and that one T-shirt that got away.

Laura Nwogu: Where did your love of streetwear and vintage clothing come from that pushed you to start Off the Wave?

Joshua McCray: “Growing up as a kid, I got started in fashion pretty early — third grade. I was really into sneakers, I was a big fan of Michael Jordan and a real big fan of hip hop. That's kind of how I got my interest in wanting to get into sneakers and clothing, but then also, too, just pop culture. The 90s and the 2000s really inspired me.”

LN:  And Off the Wave is very much about community as well. You have your annual Fashion Day Out, shoe drives for back to school and you're also a teacher at DeRenne Middle School. What has it been like for you to provide culture to the city in so many different aspects?

JM: “It's been amazing. To be able to connect different people from different backgrounds and different cultures together through similar interests has always been a goal of ours. And in terms of giving back to the community, I always felt that if you're in the position to be able to help others, I think you should always do that. So, that's why we were inspired by the shoe drive and we want to continue going on with that as well.”

Off the Wave's third annual Fashion Day Out was held at The Stables on March 5, 2022.
Off the Wave's third annual Fashion Day Out was held at The Stables on March 5, 2022.

LN: And like you mentioned, I think when you look at the link that people have with vintage clothing it always comes back to the 90s, to the 2000s. And for me, that's also the deal. What is it about vintage clothing streetwear that you think so many people rock with?

JM: “I know for me, the biggest thing is a lot of times vintage is one-of-one, and that's pretty much where the name Off the Wave started with. In a lot of different communities, to be considered wavy is to be fresh with it or kind of to be on term with everything that's going on. But we always wanted to be Off the Wave which meant that, regardless of what situation you're in, you kind of want to stand out. And that's what vintage is, right?

"You can get a vintage T-shirt from 1993 or 1994 that you wear and you step out to a club or an event and everybody's like, ‘Oh, where'd you get your T-shirt?’ Because it's one-of-one, you don't really have to worry about someone else wearing the same thing that you're wearing and those different things. So, that's why I really got into vintage and I think that's why a lot of people like it too.”

Off the Wave's third annual Fashion Day Out was held at The Stables on March 5, 2022.
Off the Wave's third annual Fashion Day Out was held at The Stables on March 5, 2022.

“And then also, the second part of it is I love vintage because it always connects me back to my childhood. When I looked at different posters or different T-shirts or sneakers when I was in third and fourth and fifth grade or in middle school, different things like that bring me back to a good time of being happy and being a child.”

LN: And is there any advice you'd give someone when it comes to clothing or sense of style or fashion?

JM: “Yeah, I think style is what you make it.  So, you definitely want to fit it towards what you like. At this point in my life now, I'm more comfort. I definitely like high-end stuff as well and popular items, but if it's not comfortable for me, I probably will not rock it. So, I always tell people to stick with what fits best for you. And then also, I'm big on the essentials. You definitely want to have certain pieces in your closet that, no matter if it's 2022 or it’s 2032, you could still wear a jean jacket, a nice vintage tee, pair of retro Jordan 4s — stuff that never goes out of style.”

Off the Wave is a vintage clothing and streetwear shop in Savannah.
Off the Wave is a vintage clothing and streetwear shop in Savannah.

LN: Is there a piece of clothing you sold where you were like “Man, I wish I could have bought that for myself” or “That would have looked great in my closet.”

JM: “(laughs) Aw, man. That's the hardest part about owning a business, right? You know, there's certain tees and certain sneakers over the years that we've sold that you think about and you're like, ‘Man.’ The one that I can really think about is, you ever seen the movie ‘The Addams Family?’”

LN: Yeah.

JM: “So we had an original promo tee from the original ‘Addams Family’ movie. It had a full-screen print of the hand on it and, to this day, I still think about that T-shirt. I think I sold that T-shirt back in 2017.”

LN: Wow, OK.

JM: “Right. So it's been like five years. At the time, vintage wasn't really that expensive, so we were selling T-shirts back then for like $20, $30. That same tee now would probably cost you like $300.”

Off the Wave is a vintage clothing and streetwear shop in Savannah.
Off the Wave is a vintage clothing and streetwear shop in Savannah.

LN: Speaking on that, about vintage not being that expensive back then. There has been a shift. Well, this has been happening for a minute. But there’s been a shift in the culture where vintage streetwear has become so popular. What do you think about that?

JM: “I definitely think it's cool in one aspect because, to see the things that we love put on national display, it's cool for certain people to get recognition. But the bad part about it though is, in terms of buying, as a business owner, it's way harder. In 2017, I was sourcing and I could probably get 50-100 vintage tees for under $500 whereas I'm lucky today to get 25. That's one bad part about it. And then also, you have people that kind of come into the culture now that aren't necessarily lovers of it, but kind of just doing it because everybody else is doing it.”

LN: Right, because it’s a trend. 

JM: “Exactly. But over time, everything weeds itself out.”

LN: Off the Wave will be celebrating five years this summer. I know you've gone through a lot of obstacles, but there's been so much support in the community. What have you learned in those five years?

JM: “The biggest thing that I've learned in these five years is persistence. You have to take the good with the bad and still keep going. And one of the reasons why we've continued to keep going is we see the impact that we're having on the community by the support that we get back. We know that what we're doing is needed. When we first started this thing five years ago, no one in town was doing anything like what we're doing.

Joshua McCray and his team at Off the Wave host shoe drives to give back to students.
Joshua McCray and his team at Off the Wave host shoe drives to give back to students.

"And to see other things that we father from it and to see the next generation of kids really updating their fashion style and dressing better here in the city and stuff lets you know that we've been doing has been good and has had a real impact. Now we want to continue to keep going and see what the next generation looks like in the next five years or the next 10 years of what Off the Wave will look like.”

LN: Why do you love the 912? 

JM: “Man, Savannah is such an amazing place. I’m originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, but I went to college here at Savannah State University, so that was really my introduction to the city and the southern hospitality. You know, the nice neighbor kind of vibe that Savannah brings has always been dope for me coming from a bigger city, because back home in South Florida is very like New York on a beach. A lot of people are rude. You don't really get a lot of that. And I just think Savannah is one of those places that I think, sometimes, locals think it's small, but it isn't. It's really a big place and it has a whole lot of potential. And I think that's where my love for Savannah comes from. When I look at the city, I see so much potential coming from it that I hope to be one of those forefathers to help bring more light to the city. It definitely deserves it.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Art of The 912

Tafy LaPlanche is the April/May artist for The 912 newsletter.
Tafy LaPlanche is the April/May artist for The 912 newsletter.

The 912 newsletter will highlight a local Black artist every two months as the header image for the weekly issue. This month's artist is Tafy LaPlanche.

Follow LaPlanche on her website and on Instagram:

Website: lepouf-art.com

Instagram: @lepouf_art

Stories of The 912

1: This year, observe Juneteenth as a reminder that the living have a responsibility to keep living

In the midst of this significant sorrow and pain, Black Americans, like generations before them, find persevering strength to push forward towards better days ahead.

2: Atlanta-based comedian Yoshee So finds laughs and truths through the immigrant experience

What do you get when a first-generation Nigerian immigrant steps away from a lucrative marketing career to pursue improv after having only just discovered a knack for it at 30-years-of-age? You get stand up comedian, Yoshee So.

3: How brothers from the Jenkins football team have become two of the hottest recruits in Georgia

College football recruiters have been making a beeline to Savannah lately as the Hostess City has developed a well-earned reputation as a hotbed for talent.

And coaches have been able to do some one-stop shopping on DeRenne Avenue as Tavion Gadson and Lorenzo Cowan, brothers from Jenkins High School, have stepped into the national recruiting spotlight.

4: Beating guns into plowshares: Savannah pastors, Moms and others take on gun violence

At the invitation of the Savannah Alliance for Pastors and Moms Demand Action, Claiborne visited the First African Baptist Church on Ferguson Square to lead Savannah's Beating Guns event, part of the city's observance of the national Wear Orange campaign to end gun violence.

5: Chatham DA declines to file charges against SPD officer who shot, killed Savannah man

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones will not prosecute a Savannah police officer who shot and killed Maurice Mincey during a traffic stop last year, her office announced in a press release Tuesday evening.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: The 912: Juneteenth isn't a marketing event