Speak Up, Act Out: Celebrating Juneteenth

Last year, we honored and celebrated Juneteenth as part of a week-long Arts Break. This year we’re combining celebration and activism with more activities from New Victory Teaching Artists that call each of us to harness our creativity in commemoration of the past and in service of the ongoing fight for equity and liberation.

Speak Up, Act Out: Celebrating Juneteenth

What is Juneteenth?
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, and it took effect on January 1, 1863, but it would be two more years before the message of liberation would reach all Black Americans. It was not until June 19, 1865, that the news reached enslaved Black men, women and children in the city of Galveston, Texas. That day would become known as Juneteenth—a combination of “June” and “nineteenth”—a day that commemorates the liberation of the enslaved. Now a federal holiday, Juneteenth is recognized in all U.S. states and territories.

How do we celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth traditions celebrate freedom and Black joy and vary from community to community. Some celebrations involve food, like barbecued meats and red velvet cake; drink, like red soda or punch; music by Black artists and dancing. For some, the holiday means shopping at only Black-owned businesses, looking back at Black history, gathering at a park to play and dance or staying at home for a day of rest.

Note: Since this video was filmed, Juneteenth is now a federal holiday!

Why do we celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth celebrations are a reminder of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re headed. Black Americans across the country are still fighting to be treated equitably, from healthcare and the workplace to housing and education to true liberation from fear of losing their lives for simply existing. But Juneteenth is also a moment to celebrate Black joy, Black excellence, and to showcase to the rest of the world why the celebration and beauty of Blackness is vital.

Emancipation Remix

Art-making can change the world for the better. Turning your art into activism is what we like to call artivism! It’s time to become artivist historians through collage (and a little bit of research). Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist ChelseaDee Harrison as she creates an art piece that uses a historical document as the basis for imagining a joyful and resilient future.

ChelseaDee tells us that we are engaged witnesses—co-conspirators of history who can build a better future. This means we need to take a deep look into our historical document, into what the world was like before and after it, and then imagine what happens next. With that in mind, it’s time to create our collage!

Materials: An image or representation of the Emancipation Proclamation or other historical document, tape or glue, magazine or newspaper clippings, any other craft items that inspire you

Step One: First things first, let’s examine and ask questions about the history behind our chosen document. You can use the Emancipation Proclamation or any other historical document that is meaningful to you or speaks to a future you are fighting for! Read your document, and then read up on it! For instance, here’s some useful info from the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the history of Juneteenth and the Emancipation Proclamation.

As you read, think about:

  • How can you celebrate what this moment in history achieved?
  • What do we still need to achieve following this moment in history?
  • What does the history of this document make you picture or hear? People and places? Colors? Songs?

An image of The Emancipation Proclamation

Step Two: Before creating your collage, think about these three words: joy, liberation, resilience.

  • What do each of these words mean to you?
  • How does each word make you feel?
  • What colors and images do you think of when you read these words?
  • What questions do you have about these words?

A graphic containing the words JOY, LIBERATION and RESILIENCE

Step Three: Now it’s time to start collaging! Assemble all the materials you collected and start to lay them all out atop your historical document before breaking out the tape or glue. Keep your thoughts on joy, liberation and resilience in mind as you collage, and remember what ChelseaDee said! Move things around and change them up as you create. Once you’ve created something you like, then put it all together.

Two hands holding up a work of collage art inspired by joy, liberation and resilience

Step Four: You now have a new piece of art—and artivism—that speaks to the past, present and future of liberation, joy and resilience. Share it with friends, family and members of your community, and see what kinds of conversations arise.

  • Were they already familiar with the document you chose?
  • What do they see in what you made? Do any of the elements you used mean something to them? How did they interpret it?
  • What questions does your collage spark for them? Can you seek out the answers together?

Continue to move through the world as an engaged witness, and keep using collage and other art forms to spin the historical events and artifacts you encounter into future-minded artivism!

Amplify Your Message

Our world is made better by those who raise their voices against injustice and demand change for good. Is there something that you are fighting for? Maybe you have something you want to change that you’ve spoken to a friend about, or maybe you’ve attended a protest with friends or family members. In those moments, it can sometimes be hard to find the right words to get your point across. Let’s work with New Victory Teaching Artist Neil Dawson to create protest slogans that amplify our voices in support of meaningful causes.

Let’s draft some slogans and make a protest sign!

Materials: Blank paper and writing utensils. We suggest different colored markers to make your sign pop!

Step One: A slogan is a catchy phrase that can grab everyone’s attention. Get inspired by thinking of other slogans you’ve encountered, maybe from commercials, billboards or videos of recent protests. See how many you can name, and ask friends and family members to do the same! What makes them catchy?

A designed graphic containing three protest slogans: Thing different. Just do it. I'm Lovin' it.

Step Two: When people protest, they are gathering together because of something they are strongly for or against—a cause. The slogans on their sign are written to fight for that cause. What is a cause that means something to you? What do you want to fight for? Choose a cause.

Step Three: Now it’s time to create your very own slogan in support of your cause. On some scrap paper, brainstorm words, phrases, images and maybe even existing pieces of art or song lyrics that you associate with this cause. As you brainstorm, observe what associations stand out to you the most until you’ve drafted your statement.

A handwritten list of slogans

Step Four: Design your sign! Write down your slogan and design how you’d like it to look on the page. Remember to make the words big and bold. Maybe you’d even like to add illustrations to your poster!

Neil, a New Victory Teaching Artist, holding a protest sign he created

Step Five: Practice saying your slogan out loud, and think of at least three different ways you can say it. Think of how it sounds each time you say it. And remember, you’re protesting! Make sure you’re making your voice heard.

BONUS: Take your protest sign out into your community and see if you can find like-minded people to join your cause!

My Liberation Is...

Juneteenth is a celebration of liberation—the state of being recognized for your humanity without fear of violence or oppression and the freedom to live and to love the people, things and traditions that make you who you are. What does liberation mean to you? It can be hard to express—let’s create a short poem to put it into words and then bring those words to life.

Materials: Pencil and paper, poem template

Step One: Think about what liberation means to you. Let’s brainstorm lots of ways to think about it so we can create a word bank for our poem.

  • What do you see when you think of freedom? What images do you think of? Song lyrics?
  • When do you feel the most liberated? Who are you around? What are you doing together?
  • What do you think it takes for everyone, including BIPOC and marginalized people, to feel liberated?
  • What makes you who you are? What traditions do you cherish? Values? What music do you listen to? What outfits do you love?

Step Two: Using the template below, fill in the blanks to describe your sense of freedom using some of your favorite things.

My Liberation Is... Worksheet Template

Step Three: Read your poem aloud. Try changing how quietly or quickly you say certain lines. Are there certain lines you really want to emphasize for your audience? Here’s New 42 Youth Corps Member Ashlie McNeal performing her poem:

My Liberation Is…

By Ashlie McNeal

My liberation is a beautiful thing

My liberation feels like orange

My liberation moves like a train

My liberation tastes like sweet candied yams

And when times are tough, my liberation sings H.E.R.’s cover of “Freedom” by George Michael

I celebrate my liberation each day by taking mindful breaths

My liberation is a beautiful thing

Step Four: Try creating a gesture for each of the words you wrote. Adding these gestures has now turned your poem into a choreopoem! Think of the following questions when creating your gestures.

  • How can you scale this gesture up and down? How small or how large could you make it?
  • How does each gesture make you feel?
  • How do you want people watching this piece to feel?

If you feel up to it, perform your new choreopoem for others. Share the template for the poem with them, too, and ask them how they would choose to complete it!

Looking for some dance inspiration? Check out how New Victory Teaching Artist Adia Tamar Whitaker combines gestures with traditional ring shout choreography and spoken word lyrics as part of New Victory Arts Break’s exploration of the arts in North America. And don’t forget to check out the activities from last year’s Arts Break Honoring and Celebrating Juneteenth.