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Juneteenth 2023: Cultural and Community Gatherings Across Boston

Celebrate Juneteenth with day-long festivals, late-night parties, local pop-up shops, and public programs that center Black liberation.

Feature by Niara Simone Hightower

A Black woman floats alone in a deep blue body of water, in a film.

Catherine White, still from "Fifty-Four Days," 2023 Roxbury International Film Festival Selection. Watch the film alongside six others at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on June 24. Catch the rest of the festival screenings and events June 20 through July 2. Photo courtesy of the artist.

below the surface I go under
an inch or so closer to the depths of the ocean or sea I close my eyes and go forward, back
submerged
absorbed
rippling
I release, to be in another body bigger than me
to be

— excerpt from “Elsewhere” by Niara Simone Hightower (forthcoming, 2023)

On June 19, 1865, enslaved Black people in Texas found out they were legally free from the institution of slavery—two years after the federal law passed. Since then, enslavers across the United States of America and beyond have maintained the essence of slavery through a network of oppressive systems, never to disappear, only to mutate across time.

Before legal emancipation, enslaved Black people ran, jumped, waded, planned, eluded, built. They also danced, gathered, prayed, created, worshiped, loved. They found freedom both in facilitating the physical escape—and transformation—of material conditions and in the daily taking of their humanity.

Freedom thus is and always was an ongoing and active project, as some of us know well. So how will we get free? How do we seek freedom in each breath of life? How do we make freedom in our communities and built environments? What will we tear down so that we can build? What awaits us in the world anew?

How can we be more alive?

This weekend, Juneteenth arrives with cultural and celebratory happenings across Boston and New England. Below are some that I’d like to offer to you. From opera and double dutch to libations and resting pods, organizations nearby have filled our calendars with day-long festivals, late-night parties, local vendors, and rigorous public programs that center Black liberation. We have an abundance of events that launch this weekend and take us into the rest of the month. Dance, reflect, imagine, create, laugh, cry, rest, play. Take what resonates with your Juneteenth mood.

And after this long weekend, listen closely;
If you let it, Juneteenth still resounds everywhere,
in everything.
We can all be free.

With love,
Niara

Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.
— Combahee River Collective Statement (published in Boston in 1977, after meeting as a collective for three years)


 

Embrace Ideas Festival: Here / Present (Livestream)

Wednesday, June 14 through Friday, June 16
Multiple Locations

While tickets to the in-person talks and lectures are sold out, watch a livestream of the programs via NBC. Featured speakers throughout the three-day festival include Hank Willis Thomas, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jenee Osterheldt, Kim Janey, and many other cultural and civic leaders. On Friday afternoon, join in for the Block Party at Roxbury Community College with leading DJs.

Image of AfroDesiacity’s 2022 Juneteenth celebration at the riverfront.

AfroDesiacity’s 2022 Juneteenth celebration at the riverfront, Stajez Dance Company entertained the audience as artists performed local hits throughout the concert. Photo by Sam Johnson.

GroundBeat 2023: Pre-Juneteenth Celebration

Thursday, June 15, 6:30–8:30 PM
Presented by AfroDesiaCity and the Esplanade 
Hatch Memorial Shell, 47 David G Mugar Way, Boston

Head over to the Charles River for the third concert of Groundbeat, a free live music series at the riverfront curated by local organizations. For Juneteenth, AfroDesiaCity activates the stage with a variety of musical performances by DJ TROY Frost, Danny Rivera & Friends, and Albino Mbie, as well as a contemporary dance performance by VLA Dance. Stay for food and line dances, of course.

Who All Gon’ Be There? A Juneteenth Vibe

Friday, June 16, 10 PM–2 AM
Presented by LiteWork Events & Kickback Boston

Chinatown Country Club, 9A Tyler Street, Boston Kick off the weekend and dance the night away with DJ Real P and KNSZWRTH.

Hyde Park’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration in 2022. Photo by Kayla Lawrence.

Juneteenth Joy Celebration

Saturday, June 17, 10:30 AM–2:30 PM
Presented by Racial Equity and Justice Forum of Hyde Park
New Mission High School, 655 Metropolitan Ave, Hyde Park. Enter through the front doors and note the signage. Location has changed in light of the weather forecast.

Gather for a ceremony followed by performances, group arts, games—with prizes—and other community activities at Hyde Park’s second annual Juneteenth Celebration. There you can also explore their Black vendor fair, visit on-site exhibitions, and try tasty bites from local restaurants.

Juneteenth Liberation Farmcert

Saturday, June 17, 12:30–3:00 PM
Presented by Boston Farms
Tommy’s Rock Farm, 1-3 Akron Street, Roxbury

This gathering celebrates Boston’s Black and Brown businesses that keep our economic and environmental ecosystems thriving. Join for music and refreshments, stay for educational presentations, land liberation, and neighborhood building.

Juneteenth: A Block Party

Sunday, June 18, 12–4 PM
Presented by Brookline For The Culture
Florida Ruffin Ridley School, 345 Harvard Street, Brookline

Play games like double dutch and spades, savor a range of free food and treats, and dance to the tunes of a live DJ—or have a tender retreat: party-goers can rest in curated areas with blankets and pillows from Brookline For The Culture. 

The Wanderer’s Tethering 

Sunday, June 18, 4–6 PM
Presented by Hibernian Hall, Boston Lyric Opera, and the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture
Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley Street, Roxbury

Experience an interdisciplinary concert featuring a newly commissioned operetta by Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola and Boston-based composer Mason Bynes. Titled “The Wanderer’s Tethering,” this work traverses the world of people who are both African and Black American. The night will also include other Black musical performances and a discussion with the artists.

Image of the annual Juneteenth Gathering at Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters in 2022.

A drum procession at the annual Juneteenth Gathering at Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters in 2022. Photo by the National Park Service.

Juneteenth at Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters

Sunday, June 18, 4:00–8:30 PM
Presented by National Park Service and partners
105 Brattle Street, Cambridge

Presentations by descendants of local self-emancipators, music and poetry, a drum procession, and moments of silence and libation will take place at this annual gathering. Later in the evening there will also be a screening of award-winning documentary Descendant (2022), which tells the story of the descendants of the last ship that carried enslaved Africans to the United States. An art installation and light refreshments will also be on site for visitors.

Boston Juneteenth Emancipation Observance

Monday, June 19, 12–7 PM
Presented by National Center of Afro-American Artists & Boston Juneteenth Committee

The Museum of NCAAA grounds open again for the highly anticipated 13th annual Juneteenth Emancipation Observance. Join the parade from Dillaway-Thomas House to the Museum of NCAAA grounds in honor of our ancestors. At the museum grounds, experience presentations, pop-up artmaking, music, retail, and food, and activities for everyone.

The Freedom Cookout

Monday, June 19, 10AM–5PM
Presented by The B.L.A.C. Project and The Shirley-Eustis House
33 Shirley Street, Roxbury

This second annual Juneteenth celebration will have a ceremony and performances honoring those enslaved at the site. Take a tour of the historic governor’s mansion, support small businesses who will be selling items inside the barn, and head back outside for a cookout with lawn games and live entertainment.

Roxbury International Film Festival

Tuesday, June 20 through Sunday, July 2
Virtual and in person at Museum of Fine Arts, Hibernian Hall, and Northeastern University
Multiple locations

“The largest New England film festival dedicated to celebrating films by, for, and about people of color around the world” is back with a full schedule of screenings and related events. Check out their festival lineup and film guide, and get tickets here.

Boston Art & Music Soul Festival

Thursday June 22 through Saturday 24
Berklee College of Music and Franklin Park, Playstead Field

Though not officially a Juneteenth event, BAMS Fest will keep us celebrating into next week. A favorite kick-off to summer, this year’s fest is not to be missed. It begins with the inaugural conference BAMS CONX (pronounced connects), followed by two days of concerts and activities. Headliners include hip-hop and DJ legend Grandmaster Flash and R&B artist Zyah Belle alongside local musicians.


Free Museum Day!

Several Boston-area museums are opening their doors for the holiday to offer free admission and cultural programming. Pro tip: Check in with each museum’s website as tickets are very likely to sell out.

Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston
We Create the World: A Juneteenth Celebration
Monday, June 19, 10 AM–5 PM

Presented with Boston Ujima Project Join for a full day of musical programs, DJ sets, healing experiences, and film screenings along with pop-ups by local vendors and artists. 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Open House: Juneteenth
Monday, June 19, 10 AM–5 PM

Stop by for pottery workshops and guided tours running all day long. At 2:15 and 3:30 PM, poet and artist Golden will lead visitors in a call-and-response performance. Meanwhile, Abilities Dance will offer two performances at 1:30 and 2:30 PM.

Concord Museum
Juneteenth Family Program
Monday, June 19, 10AM–11 AM

Join for a mix of performances by Illstyle & Peace Productions.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Free Day: Juneteenth
Monday, June 19, 11 AM–5 PM

Don’t miss Amanda Shea’s poetry performance at 11:30 AM!

MIT List Visual Arts Center
Special Open Day
Monday, June 19, 12 PM–5 PM 

A black and white drawing of Niara Simone, a woman with shoulder-length hair, smiling at the viewer.

Niara Simone Hightower

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