Juneteenth Festival includes serious discussions

Photo by Tevin Stinson- Thousands of people gathered inside the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter last Saturday, June 17 for the 13th Annual Juneteenth Festival.

Juneteenth Festival includes serious discussions
June 22
00:00 2017

People of different ages came together to celebrate the past, and take a serious look at the future last weekend during the 13th annual Juneteenth Festival held at the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem.

Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day,” commemorates the announcement of the ending of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. The local celebration hosted by the Triad Culture Arts Inc. and Food Lion featured live music, dance performances, arts & crafts, free food and more than 50 vendors.

The celebration also featured educational seminars designed to shed light on issues that plague African-American communities across the country.

Donovan Livingston, most known for his viral spoken word performance during the 2015 Harvard commencement ceremony, got the day started with a youth forum held in the auditorium. During the open discussion, Livingston and co-panelist Judge Denise Hartsfield, local Urban League executive director James Perry, and local school administrator Lakiesha Hill openly discussed several issues, including race relations in the classroom and dealing with law enforcement.

Livingston, who was a history major at UNC-Chapel Hill, said his goal during the open discussion was to help a younger generation make connections with the past and present.

“Knowing who we are at particular moments in our lives really help us speak to the things we see,” said Livingston. “Youth, no matter their age, or grade have opinions about the world around them and because they have opinions about the world that makes their opinion valuable.”

Following the youth forum, Evan Simmons, a student at Atkins High School, said after sitting down with the panelist he now has more understanding of the mindset of those working in law enforcement.

“After talking with Judge Hartsfield, I was able to see that they take their jobs very seriously and that they do try to help people in many ways,” he said. “They’re out in the community and really trying to make sure people do get on the right path.”

During a separate seminar hosted by Dr. Kimya Dennis and Rev. Tembila Covington, coordinators for the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity’s health committee, gave festival goers the opportunity to discuss mental health in the African-American community and the impact stress can have on overall physical health. Dennis, who heads the criminal studies program at Salem College and has done extensive work in mental health, said despite what many people believe, mental health and suicide are not “white people issues.” 

She said, “I want people to know these are issues that have existed since humans have existed. I’m tired of smiling this off as an issue that doesn’t have an impact on our community. Mental health and suicide is impacting all people.”

Dennis said it is important to note that all humans have mental or emotional health. She mentioned often there are racial or even gender divides that are linked to mental health. She said often generalizations placed on people of color can cause mental health issues. 

“People need to know the difference between cultural identity and individual identity. A lot of us can talk about cultural dynamics and relate but there going to be some differences,” she said. “That has a huge impact when we talk about mental illness because there are people who feel like if you’re a happy black person, you’re not really black. So therefore, when you tell them about black people and depression, we pretend as if it doesn’t exist.”

While visiting one of the vendors with a group of friends following the seminar, Magalie Yusend said the festival was an “explosion of the arts” that had something for everyone to enjoy. She mentioned the mixture of entertainment and educational seminars made this year’s festival the best yet.

Yusend, who also volunteered during the festival, said,” Just the history of Juneteenth and what happened in Texas, I feel like I owe it to the culture to be here. We have to make sure that we continue the legacy.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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