“Celebrate freedom.” That’s not just a signal to party; it’s a call to action. Juneteenth is a commemoration of freedom. It's Black Independence Day, marking the day Texas was irrevocably notified that the people still enslaved in that state were, in fact, free. That was June 19, 1865 — nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is a celebration of undeniable freedom — the end of slavery. And yet, the delay from emancipation to its full realization foreshadowed the 155 years of freedom both gained and denied, which is still playing out in our current moment.
Today's Juneteenth celebrations are inextricable from action, and there's a special urgency in 2020. Rochester organizations deliver so many Juneteenth events, we may as well take this Friday off — and as there's a push for June 19 to become a federal holiday, there may come a time when we will have the day off.
Starting at 1 p.m., Gates Public Library will host the Juneteenth Celebration with Miss Hannah, a virtual story time to introduce kids to Juneteenth, with a history lesson and list of recommendations for further reading and continued learning.
Later in the afternoon, pack a face mask for some live, in-person gatherings to commemorate Juneteenth. ROC Juneteenth Cookout is a family event with food, music, vendors, raffles, and more starting at 3 p.m. at Genesee Valley Park.
Over at Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 4 p.m., CITY writer Chris Thompson will lead a Juneteenth Capoeira Class and Demo. Capoeira, as Thompson explains, is a “Brazilian martial art disguised as a dance,” that originated as a means for enslaved people — and those being hunted for escaping — to protect themselves. As Thompson puts it, “There is no better way to celebrate liberation than doing a dance of liberation.” The event is free, and donations will benefit BLMRoc and Rochester Black Pride.
“Celebrate Freedom” is the motto of the Juneteenth Virtual 5K Run/Walk. A virtual event scheduled for 6 p.m., it’s a race about race, held to honor the memory of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in February while just going for a jog. Funds raised will benefit the Rochester Civil Rights Heritage Site at Baden Park. Registration ($10) is required, and entrants will receive a poster designed by local artist Amber Stokes that honors Harriet Tubman.
Also at 6 p.m., ERASE (Eliminating Racism and Seeking Equity) will host the Juneteenth Candlelight Vigil at the Irondequoit Town Hall gazebo. ERASE is a group of Irondequoit citizens whose mission is their very name. ASL interpreters will be available.
Back online, At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice begins its Blackout Summer Series with a Long Table Conversation called “The Fragility of Freedom: A Virtual Long Table,” from 7 to 9 p.m. The talk will specifically examine voting rights — and the undermining of those rights — throughout American history.
At 8 p.m., a collaborative video produced by The Avenue Blackbox Theatre and The Beat 105.5FM makes its big debut as a virtual screening. "The Block is Hot" examines the oppressive heat of COVID-19 and its threat to city neighborhood residents. The event will include a conversation about race, health care and access, pervasive inequities, and the real lives of Rochesterians.
The film “Miss Juneteenth,” about a former beauty queen and single mother passing the pageant baton to her daughter, will be available for virtual screening on Friday as part of the ongoing Black Cinema series at The Virtual Little Theatre, in partnership with the Rochester Association of Black Journalists. Tune in to a live discussion of the film one week later, on June 26 at 7 p.m.
If you’ve been putting off purchasing all the great output from our local musicians on Bandcamp, Friday is the day to finally do it. For the entirety of June 19, Bandcamp will donate 100% of its revenue share (that’s 15% from each digital music purchase; 10% from physical formats and artist merch) to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an organization focused on racial justice advocacy and action. Just be sure to save your eager clicks until 3 a.m. on Friday, as the 24-hour cycle starts at midnight Pacific Time.
The 6th Annual Rochester Black Authors Expo, originally scheduled for Juneteenth, has been postponed until July 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Wilson Foundation Academy. The Rochester Black Authors Association fosters the work of local black authors while also working to fortify the skills of literacy, comprehension, and writing of Rochester’s inner city residents. Be sure to confirm next month’s event as the date draws near, and plan for next year’s expo — on Juneteenth, 2021.
And finally, on Saturday, June 20, from 1 to 2 p.m., 540WMain will present an online workshop, Introduction to Juneteenth. 540WMain recently celebrated its 4th anniversary as a neighborhood gathering place and art gallery, centering its work on social justice and anti-racism. The workshop fee is $30; some scholarships are available.
While we eagerly await the re-opening of the Rochester Museum and Science Center to view the exhibits “Objectively Racist: How Objects and Images Perpetuate Racism … And What We Can Do to Change It” and “Flight to Freedom: Rochester’s Underground Railroad” — and to follow the traveling display, “Take it Down! Organizing Against Racism” — there are plenty of online museums and resources to explore right now.
At the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, numerous collection stories await, including “How the Camera Sees Color,” “Seeing Black Women in Power,” and “Building a Better Future” — as well as access to collections, exhibit previews, curator chats, and more.
A sobering online tour of the Jim Crow Museum reveals the insidious, the overt, and the disturbingly ubiquitous racist objects and practices that flourished with growing intensity through the years following the original Juneteenth. No American alive today is free from the effects on the psyche. The museum provides context for excavating this dark history.
But despair is the enemy of progress. Knowing history opens an appreciation of the present, including the objects and systems we rely upon without even thinking — many of which were imagined and manifested by black inventors. The traffic signal. The mail box. The clothes dryer. The ironing board. The folding chair. Suspenders! The blood bank. Open heart surgery, for crying out loud. Endless examples can be found online, including at The Black Inventor Online Museum, which is an archive of the stories behind the innovators and their indispensable contributions to moving the world ever forward.
This is just a tiny sliver of the big picture. Keep going.
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