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By : Jessica Hernandez

8 min read

​​Each year, we develop new ways to honor the lives of enslaved people and celebrate Juneteenth, the day recognizing the last public declaration of emancipation after the Civil War. In doing so, we also generate novel understandings of how we have carved out spaces for life despite the way these histories of enslavement continue to affect our current moment. Here’s a list of some of the ways you can celebrate Juneteenth in Boston and take part in these reflections:

Two GroundBeat Concerts at the Hatch Memorial Shell

June 8th and June 15th 6:30 – 8:30pm

Make your way to the Hatch Shell by the Esplanade for two pre-Juneteenth concerts. Produced by the Esplanade Association, GroundBeat is a free music series that partners with local artists and musicians who are working to strengthen the scene here in Boston. The program on June 8th is curated by Sympli Whitney Productionz with performances by Sympli Whitney, DJ Saucy Lady, and an ensemble.

The June 15th concert will be produced by AfroDesiaCity, a Boston-based consulting company that “specializes in live entertainment and special networking, and other value-added community events.” The evening will be hosted by Olasco Boston and include performances by DJ Troy Frost, VLA Dance, and Danny Rivera.

Embrace Ideas Festival

June 14th – June 16th

This is the second Embrace Ideas Festival and the first since the unveiling of the Embrace memorial in the Boston Common. Centered on the theme “Here and Present, the Art of Reclaiming Space and Time,” this three-day celebration contains an endless array of activities. There will be music and concerts, keynote speeches, lunches, panel discussions, and a block party – all taking place throughout Boston. Whether they’re scholars, community leaders, or artist-activists, this year’s participants have been crucial in leading the struggles against anti-Blackness and structures of racial inequity. As such, they’re bringing their knowledge of arts and culture, history, and advocacy to the festival. With this in mind, each day of the program has a specific focus. Some of the themes include “Unearthing History and Monumentalizing the Truth,” “Creativity is the Center of Black Resistance,” and ‘Who Made the Potato Salad?’ Ultimately, the Embrace Ideas Festival offers an exciting, varied, and thought-provoking space that will not only explore the historical legacies of Juneteenth, but also its contemporary reverberations and our current socio-political landscape. Please head over to their website for a full schedule and information on registration, ticket purchases, and event locations:

Hyde Park Juneteenth Joy Celebration

June 17th 10am – 3pm

On June 17th, Hyde Park will hold its second annual Juneteenth Celebration. Organized by the West Fairmount Hill Community and located at the Martini Memorial Shell Park and Moynihan Recreation Area, the event features performances, games, art-making, movement and dance, Black vendors, and food from local businesses. The program also includes a ceremony by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment Company A and the singing of the Black National Anthem. There will also be an exhibit celebrating the lives of Hyde Park residents and the work of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Builders. Please make your way to this incredibly curated celebration to not only have a joyous time, but also honor those doing meaningful work to foster community and facilitate our collective advancement.

Juneteenth: A Block Party

June 18th 12 – 3pm

Brookline for the Culture, “a black woman led group seeking to dismantle systems of oppression and promote culturally significant events and gatherings in the community,” is hosting a block party in the neighborhood. Setting up on Harvard Street around the Florida Ruffin Ridley School, the festivities will include exciting activities for all ages. There will be bounce houses, music, dunk tanks, and rest areas. The block party will also host vendors and food trucks. Please come out for the party and support Brookline for the Culture.

13th Annual Juneteenth Emancipation Observance

June 19th

In collaboration with The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, the Boston Juneteenth Committee will host the thirteen annual Emancipation Observance. Curating each year with a critical theme, the subject for 2023 is “Juneteenth: Honoring Our Martyrs and Heroes.” The scheduled program begins at 12pm EST with a flag-raising at the historic Dillaway-Thomas House. After, there will be a parade to the Museum at 1pm with the Museum Grounds Opening shortly at 2:15pm. During this time, there will be music, food, and family-friendly activities. At 4pm, the formal Emancipation Program will begin. Overall, participants can look forward to an interesting discussion especially as it relates to the central theme.

June 19th

Visit the MFA for free on Juneteenth for a variety of happenings, including a look at its current exhibit “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina.” The schedule for the day includes drop-in pottery making, storytelling, and dance performances. There will also be discussions that you don’t want to miss, such as a conversation on the “future activism of Juneteenth” with Boston youth, as well as “a call-and-response performance that maps Black un-American lineage” with artist and poet Golden.

Again, while you’re at the MFA don’t forget to view the exhibit “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina.” Using artisanal pieces created, molded, and designed by enslaved persons, this exhibit explores the difficult and complex histories embodied in these ceramic vessels. These works provide a unique way of preserving and grappling with our understanding of slavery and crucially – how we remember the lives, artistry, and material contributions of Black people in the United States.

As always, the period surrounding Juneteenth provides a space for deep reflections on the current status of Black communities in the United States. How do we pursue the ongoing and unfinished projects of freedom, emancipation, and autonomy? What have been our strategies, what are our current methods, and what approaches do we need to try out? And in what ways can we ensure that our demands for Black liberation encompass other efforts such as movements for gender autonomy, struggles against ableism, and the return of Indigenous lands? This year’s Juneteenth events are sure to spark such meditations on our past, our activism, and our collective efforts for a radically different life.

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #158 June 2023


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