Each June, communities across the nation gather to celebrate the end of slavery in the U.S. News traveled slowly in the 1800s, so it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the entire country finally heard about Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. When the news did reach the far corners of the country, people were understandably jubilant. The term “Juneteenth” was coined and sparked annual festivals and gatherings nationwide.
This year, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center (MTCC) will celebrate the holiday on June 15 at the museum in downtown Little Rock. The free festival will include food trucks, a basketball tournament, dance competition, live music and more.
We chatted with MTCC Director Christina Shutt about what you can expect at this year’s festival and what Juneteenth means to her.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and moved to Arkansas in January 2011 to take a job as head of special collections at Hendrix College. I have two master’s degrees that I worked on simultaneously from Simmons University in Boston focused on the intersection of memory, history and archives. My spouse is a bibliophile and we’re parents to a 5-year-old boy.
How did you first become involved with the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center?
I love museums. I had visited the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center before taking the position as director. I saw so much potential in what the museum was doing that when the director’s position became open, I decided to apply.
What does Juneteenth mean to you personally?
For me, Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on the rich history of my ancestors. It is about celebrating people who made lemonade out of rotten lemons. Lucille Clifton has a poem which begins, "Won’t you celebrate with me what I have shaped into a kind of life?" Her poem echoes the spirit of Juneteenth that despite the adversity formerly enslaved people faced, the importance of and endurance to carve out and claim a life for one’s self remained.
Tell us about this year’s Juneteenth celebration. What changes can folks expect and what are you most looking forward to?
This year’s Juneteenth will be one of our biggest celebrations yet! While we’ll continue to have great musical performances, food trucks and children’s activities, I am particularly excited about the launch of Minority Health Way, our newest area focused on health and wellness.
In addition to a free health fair, we’re hosting a dance competition for ages 8-19 and a three-on-three basketball tournament for all ages and abilities. The basketball tournament will include brackets for four divisions: men, women, youth and special abilities. The tournament is supported by West Central Community Center and the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, and cash prizes will be awarded.
What do you hope Juneteenth will help the MTCC achieve in Arkansas?
I hope Juneteenth will bring greater awareness to Arkansans of the rich diversity of African American culture and history. I am really excited that we’re going to kick off our newest exhibition, "Freedom in the Forest: Opportunities and Challenges for African Americans in the Timber Industry," on Juneteenth. This multi-sensory exhibition will help visitors understand the essential role that African Americans have played in the timber industry and includes lots of hands-on interactives for children.
What are some can’t-miss aspects of this year’s event?
There are so many great activities for the whole family at this year’s event. You’ll definitely not want to miss headliner performances by Grammy-nominated R&B artist Carl Thomas and six-time Stellar Award-winning and Grammy-nominated gospel artist VaShawn Mitchell.
Any tips for festgoers?
As part of #InclusiveArkansas, we’ll have an air-conditioned nursing room, a low-sensory space for individuals with autism and the main stage will have sign language interpretation. Check our website and Facebook for more details about all of the activities going on at Juneteenth 2019.
June 15, noon-6 p.m.
Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 501 W. Ninth St.