BAR HARBOR — MDI Racial Equity Working Group and Healthy Acadia hosted an inspirational Juneteenth celebration performance on Saturday, June 19. A full recording is available for viewing at www.healthyacadia.org/ce-juneteenth through July 4.
The event, held at College of the Atlantic, was open to the public via livestream on Healthy Acadia’s website. In-person attendees included the performers and the organizers, their families and a small number of guests.
At celebration, an array of Maine artists and speakers came together to share music and voices, to celebrate the rich culture of African Americans, to commemorate the ending of slavery, to honor the dedication and sacrifices of so many in the struggle for racial justice, to raise awareness about Juneteenth, and to inspire ongoing work to tackle racism and advance racial equity. They were joined by renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, who gave a surprise collaboration and solo performance.
Singer Rodney Mashia opened the performance with a soul-stirring “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” widely known as the Black National Anthem. Darron Collins, president of College of the Atlantic, gave a Land Acknowledgement to honor and respect the Wabanaki People as the stewards of the land on which we work and live, to recognize the history of injustices, and to commit to justice and equity.
Theresa Daniels-Hemphill gave a powerful speech on the history and significance of Juneteenth, and the ongoing critical work to bring about positive change. “Let us celebrate this milestone,” said Daniels-Hemphill. “Let us remain steadfast to our commitment in the face of this country’s newly reawakened reckoning with its past.”
A chorus composed of local residents sang several pieces, including spirituals and civil rights songs. Jamie Bracy performed a solo in the song, “Hymn to Freedom” by Oscar Peterson, and Alyne Cistone performed a solo in, “Down by the Riverside.” They were joined by Rodney Mashia on flute. Charlie Parker, a Mount Desert Island High School Student, followed with an inspiring speech, highlighting the importance of tackling structural change to advance racial equity.
Hawk Henries, local artist and member of the Chaubunagungamaug band of Nipmuck, came next, touching all who heard with his beautiful flute music and moving storytelling. Henries composes original flute music and makes flutes using only hand tools and fire. Following Hawk, MDI resident Alyne Cistone spoke with significant impact on Juneteenth, including the importance of celebrating, educating, and taking action.
Cistone then introduced the Pihcintu Maine’s Multinational Refugee and Immigrant Girls Chorus, who performed several songs. The Pihcintu Chorus is composed of refugee and immigrant girls from all over the world who have made Maine their home. They were then joined by Yo-Yo Ma who made a surprise appearance on stage and accompanied them in their original song “Somewhere.” The soulful solo singer and group chorus intertwined with the rich cello as they sang: “If we believe, we can achieve / We can be anything on Earth we want to be.”
Following the collaboration, Ma played an exceptional solo, the third movement of “Lamentations,” by African-American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. Ma shared: “I am thrilled that this is the first time that I can actually appear at a Juneteenth event as a federal holiday.”
Following Yo-Yo Ma and the Pihcintu Chorus, Cistone eloquently introduced Ashley Bryan, extraordinary artist and award-winning writer and illustrator of children’s books. Bryan, a resident of Islesford, was unable to attend in person on Saturday, but those watching and listening were able to hear his powerful recitation of “My People” by Langston Hughes through a prerecording.
Following Bryan, Mashia came back to the stage to speak and play a set, including a moving original song called “I Shall Ever Be Unbowed,” a story of resilience and strength of spirit in the face of the atrocities of slavery and injustice. The celebration performance ended with the Pihcintu Chorus back on stage, playing an incredible rendition of “Hallelujah,” with multiple solos, and then bringing all the performers together for a joint performance of “This Little Light of Mine.”
The backdrop for the stage, along with the ocean view, was a quilt, lent by Ashley Bryan and the Ashley Bryan Center for the performance. The quilt was conceived and designed by Katharine (Kit) Fenton-Hathaway of Bar Harbor and Chicago, Ill., in collaboration with quiltmaker Judith Ivan of Charlevoix, Mich., to honor Bryan’s spectacular art and book, “Freedom Over Me.”
June 19, 1865, was the day that Union soldiers announced in Galveston, Texas, that enslaved people had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation over two years prior. The day immediately became a cause of great celebration in Texas and then spread to become the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of emancipation across the country. Juneteenth is now recognized as a federal holiday to more formally commemorate the ending of slavery.
According to Juneteenth.com: “Today, Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month, marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement, and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities, and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.”