Freedom in full bloom at the inaugural Juneteenth party at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts


Federal lawmakers officially commemorated the end of slavery in America this week, passing a law declaring June 19 – the day in 1865 when enslaved blacks in Galveston, Texas first learned from soldiers of the Union that they had been released – a national holiday.

Residents of Orange County participated in an opening ceremony on Saturday, June 10, as the Segerstrom Center for the Arts partnered with the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation at Cal State Fullerton to present “Freedom in Bloom : a celebration of June 10 “.

A member of the Dembrebrah Drum and Dance Ensemble joins the visitors as he performs on Saturday.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Held outdoors in Costa Mesa’s Argyros Square, the event featured a range of artistic activities and performances celebrating black innovation and resilience in music, poetry, visual arts and gardening.

Dr Natalie Graham, professor of African American studies at Cal State Fullerton, launched the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation with her colleague Dr Siobhan Brooks in December, following nationwide protests calling for social justice reform and accusations from black CSUF students that they did not resent. supported or included within the institution.

Together with Dr Jamila Moore Pewu, professor in the school’s history department, Graham organized the Segerstrom event as a welcoming and engaging space for black people – who make up just 2% of the county’s population but total still over 55,500 people – within the larger community.

“My dream is for black people to come together and experience each other’s joy and joy,” Graham said on Friday. “I would like people to have fun, for it to be a fun and happy time.”

Marytza Rubio, director of community engagement at Segerstrom, said the center had hoped to honor Juneteenth in 2020, before the plans were sidelined by the pandemic.

“During the Black Lives Matter uprising last year, many members of our SCFTA community were galvanized and ready to have honest conversations about the actions arts organizations can take to shape an anti-racist culture,” said Rubio. “This first Juneteenth at the center is part of an intentional effort to recognize, amplify and support black artists and communities in Orange County.”

Saturday’s festivities began with a performance by the Long Beach-based Dembrebrah West African Drum and Dance Ensemble. A libation-casting ceremony, accompanied by a reading from “For My People” by poet Margaret Walker, paid tribute to those who have come before.

Participants painted quilt patterns reminiscent of those created by slaves to encode communications through the Underground Railroad on garden pots and were asked to take home African seeds to plant in the soil of County of Orange.

“It’s kind of like the whole Black experiment, on growing in the soil you’re planted in,” Moore Pewu said of the activity. “Many of us did not choose the soil in which we were planted, but we cultivate. “

Gwen Alexis, professor of African American studies at Cal State Fullerton, recites Margaret Walker "For my people."

Gwen Alexis, professor of African American studies at Cal State Fullerton, recites “For My People” by Margaret Walker.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The creative project corresponded to a talk by activist and author Trina Greene Brown, who spoke about “Planting for Our Future and Parenting with Liberation.”

Moore Pewu said each activity was meant to create a point of reflection related to Juneteenth which at its historic core is both a solemn nod to the past and a hopeful look to the future.

“They were people of African descent, celebrating a new identity where they couldn’t be property but could be Americans,” she said of the early celebrations. “Even now we want to be able to cry but also to celebrate – I think Juneteenth allows us to do both. “

Graham said that while federal recognition of Juneteenth is an important symbol of progress, perhaps even more crucial is to move beyond the rhetoric about freedom in America and commit to tangible future growth.

“It’s very easy to notice symbols and symbolic progress and assume that progress has been made,” she added. “But there is still a lot of work to be done. “

Kollie Pewu, family and friends participate in an art activity on the history and art of Underground Railroad motifs.

Kollie Pewu, top right, daughter Saraiah, 5, son Simeon, 11, wife, Dr Jamila Moore-Pewu, bottom left, assistant professor of digital humanities and new media in history at Cal State Fullerton, and their friends Esther Sokoloff -Rubin, bottom center, and Amolo Ngweno, bottom right, participate in an art activity on the history and art of Underground Railroad grounds.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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