Juneteenth Sounds of Freedom will mark its 19th Juneteenth celebration with a Zoom presentation from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, June 19, featuring presentations from Senegal, West Africa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pennsylvania, Jamaica in the Caribbean, Ghana, New York City, Chicago and more.
To watch the celebration, go to the Zoom link. The meeting ID is 823 1220 5617, and the pass code is 930 333.
V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center of the University of the Virgin Islands Director and Per Ankh sponsor Chenzira Davis Kahina met with Kwanzaa Mama CEO Cleo MeriAbut Jarvis on Wednesday to share highlights of the Juneteenth celebration. They spoke with the Source via Zoom about the history, the past tributes to “Freedom Day” and what they look forward to as they honor Juneteenth 2021.
“This will be our 19th one in a place where, at one time, there were hardly any African Americans … and it has grown over the years,” Jarvis said. “We have about 200 people or more that stay and actually sit and participate in the program.”
“Some just drive through,” Jarvis said. “It’s really powerful.”
Juneteenth is the day the organization hands out student scholarships to those high school students who are accepted into a college or trade school.
“It’s an exciting time for the students and their families to receive their checks during the celebration, which usually happens on a Saturday. This is the first year the celebration actually falls on a Saturday,” Jarvis said. “We also celebrate on Father’s Day and put the men in a circle, give them roses and love. It’s a celebration of freedom for everybody.”
Jarvis said the celebration of Juneteenth is of particular importance to the community.
“Juneteenth is ‘our’ special freedom day. Some people go as far as saying July 4th is not our day, because Africans were still in shackles in this land on July 4. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863,” Jarvis noted.
According to history, Juneteenth commemorates a specific order, issued in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, by U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger. The order said, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
This order came one and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
Kahina said that in June 2018 and again in February 2021 the House of Representatives has had this Juneteenth National Independence Day Act before them and it remains in Referred to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Kahina also noted that Pennsylvania is permanently recognizing Juneteenth as the cultural holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people in the U.S. On June 19, 2019, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law the legislation designating June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. State Rep. Sue Helm sponsored the bill.
Jarvis and Kahina were both present for the recognition. Jarvis said Pennsylvania rolled out the red carpet for her, as the CEO of the organization that has organized Juneteenth celebrations for close to 20 years. She was asked to speak and share, “and as the ancestors would have it, I sang,” Jarvis said. “It was a unifying moment. It was profound,” she said.
Pennsylvania was the 46th state to recognize the Juneteenth holiday. With 48 states honoring the observance, Hawaii and South Dakota are the remaining states that do not recognize the holiday.
Of the many celebrations attributed to Juneteenth, Watch Night is one of the most powerful, Jarvis said.
History tells us in America’s African-descent community, Watch Night began on Dec. 31, 1862. It was and is a religious service in which they prayed for and watched for the coming of God’s deliverance. The sign of deliverance came on Jan. 1, 1863, in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
That’s why there are still New Year’s Eve prayer services at African-American churches nationwide. Congregants continue to pray at the Watch Night services for more widespread racial equality more than 150 years later.
Jarvis has been privy to Watch Night services in several locations across the nation. Many of the African-American churches in Harlem and other cities in the nation engage in Watch Night services. Some congregations perform a re-enactment of the original Watch Night that they have taken from African Independence Day in the archives, or they use the remembrances of those elders who were a part of that journey, Jarvis said.
Kahina said the practice is also called Freedom’s Eve and takes place at different times of the year depending on what the observance is – Freedom Celebration, Black Independence Day, African Independence Day, most of which are coming from the Caribbean population showing their independence from the British, the Dutch, the French and the Danish, as in the USVI.
The Zoom meeting between scholars Jarvis and Kahina is meant to provide an opportunity for those in the community to learn more about the past and to better understand the experiences that have shaped the nation, and to find solutions for the challenges faced in the future.
The “facts and acts” discussed demonstrate the faith and strength of character of the formerly enslaved and serves as an example for all people. The presentations at the Juneteenth celebration will honor those who did not survive the Middle Passage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and will honor those who did and their descendants.
“Juneteenth is a ‘Freedom Day’ for everyone,” Jarvis said.
The Zoom presentations include portions from Senegal-West Africa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pennsylvania, Jamaica-Caribbean, Ghana, New York City, Chicago, and more:
1 – Conch Shell Horn Call to Order & Libations — Dr. ChenziRa D. Kahina, Per Ankh M Smai Tawi
2 – Tribute from Jamaica: Nana Yahmin, aka Hazel Williams-Vaz, and Jemar Jones
3 – Lift Every Voice and Sing: Grace Baptist Church Cathedral Choir
4 – Ancestral Moment of Silence: KwanzaaMama/Diversity Diva JuneTeenth Facts & Acts
5 – Tribute from Children of Senegal, West Africa
6 – Tribute from Ghana: Nana IMAHKÜS of One Africa Ghana from Cape Coast Door of No Return/Door of Return
7 – Poem: Braven Dulaney
8 – Remarks from Mayor of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Tarah Probst
9 – Reading of Juneteenth PA Law:
10 – Sabar Tribute: The Drumsong Griots — Baba Wali Rahman Ndjai, Mama Koumba Rahman Ndjai, and Ramon Wali
11 – JuneTeenth Insights with Ron Brown
12 – Puppetry Innertainment Arts: William Abbott & Miss Biddy
13 – Presenter Pocono Mountains: Jonathan Edmondson
14 – Ancestral Drum Recessional from Chicago: Elder Baba Tyehimba Mtu