ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Juneteenth celebration features spoken word, hip-hop, drumming, all centered on freedom

While Asante read Amanda Gorman’s lyrical picture book “Change Sings,” Ashreale performed an interpretive dance. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
June 21, 2024

Black Alliance & Social Empowerment (BASE) produced performance on OSF Green Show stage 

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news 

The sounds of drum beats were met with cheers and applause at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor stage Wednesday evening as jubilant performances by area students helped kick off the Juneteenth celebration with fanfare at the Green Show

Dozens of attendees filled the lawn and nearby bricks to watch more than one dozen performances paying homage to those who came before. Juneteenth, which became a federally recognized holiday in 2021, celebrates the day on June 19, 1865, when U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and announced that enslaved people were free

At the close of Wednesday’s Juneteenth celebration, BASE youth performers and instructors gathered on the OSF Green Show stage. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“This is an historic moment,” said Vance Beach, executive director of Black Alliance & Social Empowerment (BASE). 

“It’s so beautiful and special,” Beach added. “It’s something that all of us in this entire country should celebrate and recognize because it’s all of our history. This day symbolizes true freedom, true independence.”

The event is the first to be held by BASE in conjunction with OSF, though not the first Juneteenth event hosted by BASE (the third annual Juneteenth celebration took place in Medford on June 15).

BASE youth dancers closed the Juneteenth Green Show celebration with a hip hop dance to “jet Blue Jet.” Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“Juneteenth is a symbol of everyone’s true freedom in the country because it was over two years where folks still in this country had no idea about that emancipation proclamation and they were still being enslaved,” Beach said.

BASE is headquartered out of Medford and was created in 2019 after a small group of Black individuals attended a Black youth summit in Ashland. The organization seeks to create a “space that thrives in its Blackness, powered by the imagination of its people, leveraging technology, and bringing community to Black people throughout the Rogue Valley and beyond.”

Soloist Avani danced to “Turntables” by Janelle Monae. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Among the performances Wednesday were poetry readings of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou by Tatum and “Ruby Showed the way” by Carol Oaks, recited from memory by Kayden Hill; a hip-hop dance group performance to “Gimme Dat” by Ciara; a solo performance by “Black Girl Soldier” by Jamila Woods; a performance duet of “Lift every voice and sing” sung by Asante and Elena; a hip-hop dance to “Jet Blue Jet” by Major Lazer; and “Pure Water,” an instrumental piece. Accompaniment was provided on piano by Lorrie Kaplan (an Ashland.news board member). 

The large crowd gathered on the lawn enthusiastically supported the BASE youth hip hop dancers at the Juneteenth celebration Green Show. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Paige Mayes, dance choreographer and program director, welled with pride about the youths who participated in the showcase.

“It builds their self-esteem, it builds their confidence and they’re able to speak about Juneteenth and us being, finally, free,” Mayes told Ashland.news following the performances.

Eight BASE youth drummers performed several pieces, including one number where each had a solo. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“I think it’s wonderful for our youth to know our history because if they know what happened prior, we can build a grander, more beautiful, peaceful future.”

“We all are our ancestors’ wildest dreams — This is what they dreamed of and these children are our future,” she added. “These are our future governors, our future … community leaders, and for them to give voice to this huge moment in history is profound.”

Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise” was read by Tatem at the Green Show celebration of Juneteenth on Wednesday. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Pointing out one of the performers nearby following the performances, Mayes praised 7-year-old Kayden Hill, who recited the poem “Ruby Showed the Way,” by Carol Oaks. The poem shares about the bravery of Ruby Bridges, the first Black student to attend a formerly whites-only school in 1954.

Kayden told Ashland.news he wasn’t nervous to recite the poem for the crowd, and Mayes emphasized they had practiced it many times.

Grace, a BASE youth dancer, performed a solo dance to “Blk Girl Soldier” by Jamila Woods, which describes the beauty and strength yet the struggle in being a proud Black woman. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“Proud mom moment,” his mom, Kala, told Ashland.news.

“It’s nice to know that he’s making history,” she said.

While the holiday has only recently been recognized as a federal holiday, the day has been celebrated by Black communities all across the country since 1866.

The Amazing A’s, Asante and Alayna, accompanied by Lorrie Kaplan, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Mayes recalled her own Juneteenth celebrations with their family members over the years as they were growing up. 

Her family would cook up greens, yams, baked chicken, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, banana pudding —  the good stuff.

“I would always celebrate this holiday with my family and we would cook and reflect on the holiday and what it means to us as a people and how far we’ve come,” Mayes said, “yet how far we have to go.”

Ten-yearold Rae took the stage to share about the significance of Juneteenth and why it is a day to celebrate freedom and the rich cultural heritage of the Black community. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Beach shared similar memories.

“You’ll always see usually barbecues, festivals of some sort, performances, people sharing stories, playing cards … it’s truly just a day of celebration,” Beach said. “A day that you’re not feeling tied down and shackled, a day that you can embrace the opportunities that this country offers … the idea of advancement, the idea of thriving.”

Mayes and Beach both spoke about the importance of celebrating Juneteenth as a community now that it is fully recognized as a federal holiday.

“In reality, we were not free on the Fourth of July,” Maye said. 

“All the slaves in Texas were still enslaved, yet the others were free and they had no idea.”

BASE youth member Sunny, age 10, opened the Juneteenth Green Show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Wednesday evening with an explanation of the many programs that BASE offers youth. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Beach also shared his thoughts on bringing the holiday to the forefront of the community.

“Juneteenth … I would think of it as the true July Fourth,” Beach said. “It’s the true day of independence for everybody in the country, not just some people.”

“It’s now in the mainstream, people are recognizing it, people are feeling it,” he added. “I love that … look out here, you see the community, there’s so many different people just enjoying it, loving it, and I think that’s beautiful.”

Beach said it took a whole community of people and many parents putting in time and effort to be there at practices … “all for these type of moments.”

“This was a phenomenal opportunity, a platform for our kids … we thank OSF,” Beach added.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

June 21: Spelling of dancer Avani’s name corrected.

Related story: ‘Pride and joy in my heart’: SOU ceremony celebrates Juneteenth (June 12, 2024)

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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