Julian “Ju-Ju” Walters poses for a snapshot at his kickoff block party. Photos courtesy of Julian Walters.

Julian Walters recalled being unable to shake the heartache he felt around the negative publicity making headlines about the Black community in Madison. The reports didn’t reflect his fond childhood memories.

The Alabama A&M University graduate returned home with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and began dreaming of ways to change the narrative by making Madison the place to be, especially for Black families.  As a kid, one of Walters’ favorite summer events was Johnny Winston Jr.’s Streetball & Block Party at Penn Park. 

“The unity and community feel of it was special,” Walters recollected. “The love and the networking were there, too. Everyone would come back each summer just to be there.”

Walters turned that cherished memory into his own event this summer, with Winston’s blessings. On Aug. 14, he kicked off Ju-Ju’s Block Party at Penn Park on the southside of Madison. Ju-Ju is Walters’ nickname he’s had since he was child. 

“Ju-Ju’s Annual Block Party is an event created to promote Black excellence, while strengthening community through cultured activities,” said Walters, a James Madison Memorial High School alum. 

His family-friendly event was organized with all the “must-haves” required for any Black family reunion or community-wide celebration: delicious food, hip-swaying music, hugs and laughter. The day was highlighted with a streetball tournament and games of spades. Pop-up shops and tables with community resources were available, too.

“This turned about better than I could have expected,” said Walters, who works as manager of the Homebuyers Program at the Urban League of Greater Madison.  “I was hoping for, like, 50 to 75 people throughout those six hours. There ended up being 500 to 600 who attended. It peaked to about 400 people in the park all at one time. It was a crazy turnout compared to what I had expected.

“So many people came up to me and expressed how much they missed the block party and how much it was needed. … I was also happy that this was a positive event with no violence. No one got into it or fought. We policed ourselves and were accountable for ourselves,” he added.

In partnership with FOSTER of Dane County, the park celebration with a Double Dutch competition, bouncy house for the youth, a car show, and a backpack giveaway for those in need.

Walters said plans are already underway for next year’s block party.

“Hopefully everyone felt like this brought them back to their roots,” Walters said.