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Juneteenth 2023 at Carnegie Hall
Join the livestreaming celebration of an all-American freedom day
JUNETEENTH 2023 AT CARNEGIE HALL
Join the livestreaming celebration of an all-American freedom day
Juneteenth: A Symbol of Hope
Dating back to the end of the American Civil War in 1865, Juneteenth commemorates our nation’s true independence—the day when all members of the newly formed Union were finally declared free. The formal declaration that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America were to be freed was issued by President Abraham Lincoln via the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
A full two-and-a-half years after emancipation was declared, on June 18, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island, Texas, with 2,000 federal troops to occupy the state on behalf of the federal government. At this time, there were an estimated 250,000 enslaved people in Texas. The following day, June 19th, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read "General Order No. 3," announcing the total emancipation of those held as slaves. And so, “Juneteenth” became ever thereafter a day for celebration in Texas, when everyone dressed in their finest to mark their newfound liberty.
More than 400 years after the first Africans were brought to the English colonies, our work to create a more equal society continues. Few living Americans have worked harder on this project than Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. Serving as the Senior Minister of Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, for seventeen years, Rev. Dr. Forbes’s ministry in one of the largest multicultural and interdenominational congregations in the United States has focused passionately on creating a more just society. Juneteenth at Carnegie Hall is part of that effort.
A Call to the Vision
I worked at the interdenominational Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, from 1997 to 2011 under Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.’s leadership and found a calling in the majestic halls of the historically renowned “social justice church” and in its namesake theater. It was a time of inspiration, discovery, and growth as I curated and produced performances, film screenings, festivals, and dialogues around the social justice issues impacting our community. It was a journey that validated how powerful the arts are to reveal the underbelly of issues that have so long plagued our society.
Dance, theater, exhibits, and film laid bare topics such as racism, environmental crisis, violence, corporate greed, and more. I searched for ways to connect with communities, create partnerships, and provide artists with a platform to speak their truth. During those fourteen years, I learned the value of collaboration and support to help others reveal their creative gifts and give voice to pressing concerns.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Dr. Forbes has a mighty vision—compelling and enfolding—as he speaks prophetically about justice for all. He envisions a world of freedom and equality with Juneteenth as the abiding symbol of our efforts to become “a more perfect Union.” When I received a call from Rev. Dr. Forbes in 2019 to talk about producing his Juneteenth program, the answer was a resounding yes. The excitement increased when he shared the possibility of the program being held at the historic Carnegie Hall, on the Stern/Perelman stage. Celebrating Juneteenth at such a venue is a bold and courageous step in his pursuit of a democratic ideal.
Translating that vision onto the Carnegie stage has been a worthy challenge. You see, Juneteenth was a healing ritual to acknowledge the pain of the past and look forward to a brighter day. Shaping the program meant capturing the brutality and cruelty of the Middle Passage, the sale block, plantation life, and survival thereafter. Uplifting Rev. Dr. Forbes’s vision meant channeling the despair, strength in perseverance, and the tenacity and grit to survive into every moment of the program to arrive at a freedom celebration worthy of the name Juneteenth. With clear intention and purpose, we have worked cohesively to bring his vision to life. What a glorious evening that first Juneteenth celebration at Carnegie Hall was!
Juneteenth at Carnegie Hall in 2023
Believing deeply that Juneteenth should be recognized as a national rather than regional holiday, Rev. Dr. Forbes first launched a Juneteenth Celebration in 2015 to carry forward his vision and memorialize Juneteenth as “All American Freedom Day.” Six years later, in 2021, as a result of a nearly unanimous bipartisan effort, Juneteenth became a national holiday. A Juneteenth celebration has now become a signature program of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a national network that serves thousands of pastors, lay leaders, and the next generation of those working for a more just society.
We are in a serious condition of polarization and division. We are at a point in history where an event like Juneteenth helps us recognize our unity amidst our ethnic diversity. We come together to remember the awful horrors of the past, but to indicate that this will no longer characterize us as a people. How blessed America is to have a national holiday commemorating freedom and justice at a time we so desperately need to renew our passion for democracy. Juneteenth is a God-given call to reclaim the true meaning of the American dream and celebrate a new future.
—Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr.
I have had the honor of producing the Juneteenth Celebration for the past five years in association with Carnegie Hall. A valuable partner, Carnegie’s leadership is committed to Rev. Dr. Forbes’s vision and has worked collaboratively to bring Juneteenth to a national audience. Our Spirit Alive Awards have recognized the dedication and work of Opal Lee, Sonia Sanchez, Carnegie Hall Chairman Robert F. Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Bishop Michael B. Curry, Bree Newsome-Bass, Carmen Gloria Pérez, and other notable individuals.
Our theme for this year’s Celebration, on Monday, June 19, is “Renewing Passion for Freedom and Democracy.” We will honor those who fought for freedom in our Legacy Tribute—in the days when uttering such a thought could be a death sentence. We will also honor contemporary freedom fighters who exemplify this theme by presenting Spirit Alive Awards to human rights advocate and attorney Gay McDougall, civil rights activist Dr. James M. Lawson, and the Carter Center.
A poet and songwriter himself, Rev. Dr. Forbes knows the power of the arts to connect and stir hearts. Every year we bring exemplary artists to the Perelman Stage of Stern Auditorium. This year, the lineup includes: 10-time Grammy winning a cappella group Take 6, pianist Joseph Joubert, dynamic trio The String Queens, intergenerational vocal ensemble Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble, critically acclaimed dance company Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn, Academy and Grammy Award-nominated youth ensemble IMPACT Repertory Theatre Performance Company, and the Poet Laureate of the 2023 New York State Gubernatorial Inaugural Ceremonies Kayden Hern.
Hearing voices from our community is a vital part of bringing the significance of Juneteenth to our audiences. We will thus present a number of videos of members of our community affirming the importance of Juneteenth during the program. This year, we’ll add six iconic voices who will also express their sentiments about Juneteenth. Click here to hear from Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Joel Kibble, Dave Thomas, and Alvin Chea—better known as Take 6.
We invite you to join us for an exciting evening of healing and hope, challenge and rededication, along with an abundance of joy. In-person tickets have sold out but you can watch the livestream of the event here juneteenthus.info on June 19 at 7pm ET.
Jewel Kinch-Thomas is COO and Co-Founder of the Jazz Leadership Project (JLP), a high-performance model to develop leadership and enhance group cohesion through the principles and practices of jazz. JLP works with companies such as Google, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, Verizon, and TD Bank. Jewel also serves as a coaching consultant for cohort and individual leadership programs. With 20+ years as an executive arts leader, Jewel is lead producer for the annual Juneteenth event at Carnegie Hall. Jewel is an alum of Columbia University’s Arts Leadership Institute and the Women & Power: Leadership for the 21st Century program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She blogs at Tune In To Leadership.