The annual Juneteenth festival was held at Southside Community Center on Saturday, one of the main celebrations of black culture in Ithaca each year. 

Southside Community Center’s annual Juneteenth celebration was a delightful mix of food, fun and festivities. Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day, celebrates the abolishment of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, as well as the emancipation of all slaves across the United States.

This year’s theme, Abolitionist Teachings, served as a dedication to the 400 years of slavery and African Americans fighting for their rights, but also as a way of honoring the teachings of Jaqueline Elizabeth Melton Scott. Scott was an Outreach Coordinator at Cornell’s Africana Studies and Research Center who served as a mentor figure for many of Southside’s current leadership but died earlier this year. Dr. Nia Nunn, chair of Southside’s Board of Directors, identified Scott as a great life teacher and was excited to see the festival despite her absence.  

Going along with the theme, Buffalo Street Books collaborated with Southside to have special books, such as “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” by Dr. Bettina Love and “Freedom! The Untold Story of Benkos Bioho and the World’s First Maroons” by Drs. Kofi LeNiles and Kmt Shockley brought to the festival. The latter book details the life of Benkos Biohó, a man stolen from his homeland and taken to be a slave. However, he managed to free himself and establish one of the first maroon colonies in South America. Nunn spoke about what the day means to her and how these books play a part in the festival’s overarching theme.

“Juneteenth brings an opportunity for us, as black people especially, to honor ourselves, to honor one another, to recommit ourselves to a level of education that can potentially be transformative,” Nunn said. “So, for me, it's both a celebration and an awakening [...] That's also why this year we incorporated actual text books. Mama Scott was a real heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy advocate for literacy. She would constantly be asking, are you reading at home? Are your children reading at home? And if you were to say no, she gave you the look and then filled your arms with books to take home.”

Dr. Margaret Washington, a historian of the black experience and professor at Cornell University, and a good friend of Jacqueline Scott, delivered the keynote address, which was followed by Southside’s Youth Performers. One of Nunn’s favorite parts of the festival is watching all the people who attend the festival dance to the music.

“I love that moment when you have your elders up, and babies that just learned how to walk, up dancing,” Nunn said. “And when we do, of course, it's the kids performances and stuff too, but it's the developmental spectrum of joy and of happiness that you'll see in the space.”

Along with this, Southside finally revealed their Black Girl Alchemy mural, which has taken a year-long effort to display on the exterior of the building. Nunn also announced that the new search for an executive director was underway, replacing former leader Nydia Boyd.

Vendors doled out soul food delights like baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, sweet potato pie and ribs, to name a few, as well as empanadas and other multi-ethnic dishes. Capping off the festival was a showing of the musical film “The Wiz,” a soul music adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” with a production by Running 2 Places starting in the coming days.

Throughout the day, a wide variety of musical acts included Darius and Eva Scott, relatives of Jacqueline Scott, singing the blues, youth performers from Greater Ithaca Activities Center, several church choirs and other local artists performing songs focusing on the overall theme.

“Each one of these performers deserves like, almost a whole hour to themselves, navigating the time frame and space,” Nunn said. “You'll love listening to each one of them, and each one of them deserves their own concert."

Juneteenth @ Southside


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