Juneteenth

Community: “Game night” is just one of the activities coordinated by the local branch of the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation; on Saturday, June 18, Hillcrest residents join forces with the foundation for the Juneteenth celebration. photo by C. Nicole Hinebaugh

Celebrate what you’ve got and who you are. That idea frames Hillcrest residents’ Saturday, June 18, celebration of “Juneteenth” — a national event that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. First held in Texas in June 1865 as “African American Emancipation Day,” the celebration has come to emphasize education and achievement.

So for Hillcrest Apartments residents, Juneteenth means celebrating “the skills of residents who live there and [restarting] some of the community get-togethers that used to be extremely prevalent in the area,” says C. Nicole Hinebaugh, program director for local event sponsor, the national nonprofit Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation. “In September 2010, we initiated an outreach program that [became] the basis of our Healthy Living Program,” she explains.

In that outreach effort, foundation representatives interviewed each Hillcrest resident, asking what the citizens want to see happen in their community, what skills they possess and can pass along to others and which local services they want (or need) access to, Hinebaugh explains.

“Canvassing the community provided us with the background to establish classes and activities for the residents. These were ideas specifically generated by them, for them,” she continues. So programs such as Cooking for Children and Adults, Movement Arts (yoga, hip-hop dance, aerobics and soccer), a Women’s Discussion Group and Nature Games dot the calendars posted around the community. Participation has been strong, Hinebaugh adds. Many residents teach and lead the activities; the enthusiasm shown by the community has allowed the program to grow, she says.

The Women’s Foundation has also invited local agencies and services, such as the On Track Foundation and Our Voice, to educate residents on such issues as finances for women and healthy relationships.

The Juneteenth event reflects the success of these classes and activities. And it’s something all residents interviewed were in favor of — a community-wide celebration. “A lot of [similar] community festivals and celebrations died out in Asheville over the years,” says Assistant Program Coordinator Itiyopiya Ewart. “We wanted to help reestablish the idea of rejoicing in the common pride all the residents share, as well as celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.”

What’s more, residents have shared in the planning and responsibility for the event, Ewart notes. So from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the large field near the public-housing complex, Juneteenth events include live singing and dancing performances, kids’ activities, food and drink, and numerous booths for such agencies as Just Economics, BLOCK Academy, Earth Fare Family Night, The Mediation Center and Building Successful. The event is free and open to the public.

While honoring the end of slavery in the U.S, the Hillcrest event gives the community a place to mingle and celebrate not only Juneteenth, but one another. Says Hinebaugh, “Empowering the residents to organize the Juneteenth celebration has been one of our goals from the beginning.”

The Women’s Wellbeing & Development Foundation is always looking for volunteers. If you would like to help out with all they do, or pitch in for the Juneteenth event, contact C. Nicole Hinebaugh by calling 255-8777 or by emailing her at nicole@wwd-f.org.

— Freelancer Chris Wood lives in Asheville.

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