By Christina Appignani
The 4th annual Juneteenth Celebration, hosted June 19 by Malden CORE (Community Organizing for Racial Equity), was extra special this year. African Americans have marked Juneteenth annually since the late 19th Century, but this year Juneteenth became a federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. Juneteenth commemorates when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to deliver the news of emancipation to the last remaining African American slaves on June 19, 1865.
The day began with the in-person 3rd annual Juneteenth Flag Raising at the new City Hall Plaza. Later in the evening, Malden CORE held a virtual celebration on Zoom.
Erga Pierrette, a co-convener for Malden CORE, noted that Malden CORE made history this year by raising a Juneteenth flag at every school in the Malden district. The Juneteenth flag has also been raised at the Malden Police station and Fire Department.
Karen Colón Hayes, a Malden CORE member, opened up the flag-raising event with a land acknowledgement. “In Malden, we acknowledge that the land we live, work, learn and commune on is the original homeland of the Peacock and the Massachusett first nation people,” she said “We honor and respect the many diverse indigenous people still connected to this land and our community.
Marcia Manong, another Malden CORE member, hosted the flag-raising ceremony. “Today, Juneteenth is both an opportunity to remind all Americans of the distinctive contributions of all African Americans and Black Americans, and also to remind all Americans of our past,” she said.
Before the flag was raised, Manong explained how “The Juneteenth flag is a symbol that gives us the opportunity to recognize American freedom and African American history. The flag represents the star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land over a new horizon. The flag was intentionally created with American red, white and blue colors.”
As the flag was being raised, singer Lydia “LovelySinger” Harrell sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known as the Black National Anthem of the U.S.
Malden Mayor Gary Christenson thanked Malden CORE for the work they have been doing for the past four years in the community. He also mentioned that while some cities and towns in Massachusetts are celebrating Juneteenth for the first time this year, Malden has been celebrating Juneteenth for several years thanks to the work of Malden CORE. He then read a proclamation.
Mystic Valley Area NAACP President Zane Crute also spoke at the flag-raising. He challenged the audience to recognize the reason for Juneteenth being a holiday rather than just being excited that there is another summer holiday that calls for warm weather and barbecues. “We challenge everyone to do more. More racial justice. We want to do more to improve the Malden schools,” he said. “Additionally, we want to fight for things that we wish we could have got.”
He mentioned that while police reforms in Massachusetts have been passed, “a stricter stand for qualified immunity was left out,” emphasizing the importance of “[not forgetting] things that need more justice.”
Malden CORE member Cecilia Nuñez read the poem “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R., explaining that “The poem addresses the generational struggle in the African-American community dealing with racism and injustice.”
At the end of the flag-raising event and at the beginning of the virtual celebration event, Pierrette spoke about the importance of Juneteenth. “If we are truly honoring Juneteenth, we need to decolonize our curriculum, to teach our youth true history, not his falsified story that upholds white supremacy.” She called upon students, parents, leaders and educators to “be intentional about pushing our BIPOC youth to be able to see themselves and their ancestors in the books that they use and in the educators who are teaching them in their classrooms.”
Pierrette also noted that many people don’t recognize the injustice in the community of Malden. “People aren’t being held accountable and discriminatory practices have been normalized. This country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all, however, it feels like freedom, liberty and justice for some. And ‘some’ don’t look like me.” She cited a quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” and she repeated this quote twice for emphasis.
“As we commemorate Juneteenth, let us commit to centering humanity and locking arms with one another to make Malden an example for other cities and towns to follow as we move forward to a more just and equitable Malden for all,” Pierrette said.
The rest of the virtual celebration was moderated by Malden CORE members Bridget Mutebi and Ted Louis Jacques. First, they introduced the A.O Step Team from Malden High School. Stepping is a form of percussive dance that originated in Africa which uses the body as an instrument through footsteps, hand claps and spoken word. Several members of the A.O Step Team attended the virtual celebration, including Captain Christina Pierre-Rene and members Myrvline Gilles, Deborah Yennah, Krishna Marius. They presented a pre-recorded performance that incorporates “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Next, drummer Otha Day gave a virtual, interactive drumming performance. He also performed at the in-person 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration at the Senior Center in Malden. Louis-Jacques said that Day “facilitates fun and lively drum circle events from the deep belief that rhythm has the power to build community, promote well-being, and create joy.” Mutebi added that Day also holds Drum2Talk workshops that use “rhythm and in-depth conversation to support healing and transforming racial conflict.” Day’s performance at the event also incorporated singing and feeling one’s heartbeat for rhythm.
The 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Jennifer Hedrington, a teacher at the Ferryway School in Malden, gave an interactive speech. She introduced herself as “Black Kween.”
Hedrington asked the audience to utilize the chat function to mention various ways that the word “Black” and “Blackness” is used as a negative stereotype or connotation. She proceeded to mention positive connotations of the word “Black” that also indicate how the work and dedication of Black people helped to build America and continues to transform the nation to this day. She challenged the audience “to break the mold, resist the temptation to associate me [the word Black] with the mean, the bad, the ugly” and to “uplift and celebrate the plethora of shades we live in.”
Afro-Caribbean dancer Alexandria Onuoha gave two dance performances. Onuoha is an Applied Developmental Psychology PhD student at Suffolk University and the Director of Political Advocacy at Black Boston. Her performances were pre-recorded at the Urban Media Arts studio. The first performance was titled “Passage 1929” and the second performance was titled “Homegoing.”
In an interview with Neighborhood View Assistant Coordinator Saliha Bayrak, Onuoha explained that “Passage 1929” serves as a “remembrance of [her] Black ancestors and those of the African diaspora” and “calling attention to the inequities that are within our society right now. In reference to “Homegoing,” Onuoha explained that a homegoing refers to when someone passes away; in many Caribbean and African cultures, “you have a party or celebration of that person’s life the night before they have passed.” She wanted this second performance to be more joyous because “although [Black people] are struggling, there is still sunshine and joy on the other side.”
Spoken word nonbinary poet Zenaida Peterson performed their original poems. They are also a gardener, a founding director of Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam (FEMS), and a published author of the illustrated poetry chapbook “Breakfast for Dinner and Other Blasphemous Things.” They performed the poems “Kelly,” “Pride Proud,” and “My Pronouns are Black.”
Lydia “LovelySinger” Harrell sang an original song called “Who’s Comin’ With Me.” She explained that she chose to sing this song because “[she] felt it was important to show one of the original forms from [her] people, Black people, which would be Blues music.” As Harrell, she also performed the song on ukulele.
Marcia Manong closed out the event by thanking sponsors, saying, “If the silent majority remain silent, the evil of racism will continue to perpetuate.” She called upon the audience to, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, to “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Below is the full video of the Malden Juneteenth Celebration.