Not everyone in Asheville has heard of Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of the institution of slavery in the United States. Even one of the organizers of a local event to commemorate the day says he has only been aware of its significance for a few years.
“As we were coming up, we never heard about Juneteenth,” explains Thomas Boyd, a hip-hop artist who is also known as Ready Red. “Honestly, I’m 34 and I probably started to hear about it in 2016.”
Along with Davaion Bristol and Marcus “Mook” Cunningham of Urban Combat Wrestling, Boyd is producing this year’s observance of Juneteenth Festival: Celebrating Freedom at the Hillcrest neighborhood, where the day has been celebrated since at least 2011. Activities run noon-8 p.m. at 100 Atkinson St. The event was originally slated for June 19, but has been rescheduled for June 20 due to inclement weather.
Upon arriving in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Grant informed folks there that the Civil War was over and enslaved people had been freed. Although slavery had officially ended 2 1/2 years earlier with Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, no official had attempted to liberate African Americans in Texas prior to Grant’s arrival.
Originally celebrated almost solely within the African American community, interest in the Juneteenth holiday has waxed and waned through the years. And while Juneteenth is an official state holiday or observance in 47 of the 50 states, including North Carolina, it’s not yet recognized at the federal level.
For Bristol, the day offers an opportunity for fun and fellowship while boosting awareness of the history surrounding the end of slavery.
“Juneteenth is a representation of what could be in America, but what we don’t see yet. We have a whole lot of work to do, and this Juneteenth we’re gonna celebrate for the work that’s already been done,” says Bristol. “With all the protests and hard feelings, we feel like people need to party. People need something to unwind.”
Highlights of the Hillcrest festival, which Boyd says will follow social distancing and sanitation protocols, will include a series of wrestling and hip-hop performances that focus on telling the story of emancipation, soul food prepared by Daddy D’s Suber Soulfood as well as neighborhood residents and kid-friendly activities.
Besides a stage donation from LEAF, the event has no corporate sponsors. On June 12, Boyd launched a Facebook fundraiser with the goal of raising $2,500. By June 16, more than 60 individual donors had chipped in to meet that goal.
“The event is open to anyone who wants to attend,” he says. “It’s all about recognizing a holiday that’s real. It’s not no Pilgrim holiday. It’s for everyone. If you ain’t got no racism in your heart, come to Juneteenth. This is what this is all about. MLK had a dream for all of us. We’re taking the movement and keeping it running.”
We mean business
The newly formed Mountain Business Equity Initiative is hosting a virtual event, Honoring Juneteenth ://: Emancipating Entrepreneurship, which will livestream 4-7 p.m. via Zoom. (To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
The event will focus on black liberation and celebrate the legacy of black business owners and entrepreneurs through storytelling and community discussion. There will also be a screening of the short film Boss: The Black Experience in Business, along with a presentation that introduces the MBEI’s guiding principles and founders, including Cortina Jenelle Caldwell, founder of the adé PROJECT, DeWayne Barton of Hood Huggers International and Jason Muhammad of JM Leadership Consulting.
“For us, this event marks the launch of our initiative to the community and how we can best support other black business owners and entrepreneurs, especially at a time which is so critical because so many of us have been impacted by COVID-19,” says Caldwell.
“The work we’re engaged in is to strive for equity through education, self-empowerment and economic mobility. We’re looking to overcome disparities faced by black entrepreneurs by providing holistic support that has not been historically received. ”
Caldwell continues, “Originally when we planned the event, we did not anticipate that it would be in the midst of global and national demonstrations around anti-racism and anti-blackness. For all of those reasons and more, it feels like a really relevant time to be talking about entrepreneurship and ownership in black community. In a lot of ways, that’s one of the many key paths of what it means to be liberated and work beyond white supremacy.”
While folks of all races are welcomed and encouraged to participate in the event, Caldwell emphasizes that the experiences of black folks will be centered during the virtual gathering. She adds that in addition to listening and learning about this important piece of black history, the best way for community members to support and serve is through volunteering their time, offering relevant business expertise or making a financial contribution.