Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Afternoon in Fort Greene: 11th Annual Juneteenth Arts Festival at Cuyler Gore Park

At noon today we were on hand for the opening ceremonies at Fort Greene's eleventh annual Juneteenth Arts Festival at Cuyle Gore Park (the triangle where Fulton Street, Greene Avenue and Carlton Avenue intersect).

The Juneteenth celebration was presented by the Cooperative Culture Collective, a local collaboration between business owners and artists, in partnership with Urban Bush Women, the great dance company founded by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, whom we know from our Florida Arts Council days; the company had performances and workshops today at 138 South Oxford.

Charles Reese did a wonderful job as the emcee for the opening ceremonies, generating a good deal of enthusiasm and good cheer.

First, there was an inspiring invocation by Father Caleb Buchanan of Our Lady of Victory R.C. Church, and Charles led a ceremony of holding hands and reciting a pledge of solidarity that was quite moving.

Then Sister Morenike led a ceremony honoring the ancestors in the Middle Passage with a libation.

After that, Charles organized a cakewalk around the triangle (gore) along the three adjoining streets of Fort Greene. The ritual cakewalk originated during slavery, and are always celebratory (although there are conflicting theories as to its origin). But they're still joyful,

especially when there's someone parading on stilts. This Weisu Ensemble performer was particularly skillful and playful.

The kids, who led the cakewalk, took the stage at its conclusion, with some dancing organized by Charles Reese.

The always-impressive Laurie Cumbo, the founder and executive director of MoCADA nearby, and someone whom we've seen a lot over the years, took over and spoke about Juneteenth and the community's cultural focus and neighborhood activism.

She introduced a number of community figures and elected officials, starting with New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

The area's council member, dynamic Letitia (Tish) James, spoke next and introduced the founders of the annual Fort Greene Juneteenth celebration, Selma Jackson and Brenda Brunson-Bey, to much applause.

Others spoke, including the Councilmember from the East Flatbush/Brooklyn College area, Jumaane Williams (our Facebook friend), and a representative of State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, who's at work in Albany with the legislature still in session to do important business.

Unfortunately, we had to leave after the opening ceremonies, but there were tons of events going on all afternoon, from more talks and the Urban Bush Women performances and workshops to the Act Now Film Festival, spoken word performances, a fashion show, a performance from the Spirit Ensemble Dance Group, and much more. This is the start of Soul of Brooklyn Week, with a variety of events going on from now until next Saturday.

We were, however, grateful to have been at even a bit of today's Juneteenth celebration in Fort Greene, one of America's truly great neighborhoods.

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