NORTH BRENTWOOD — The Prince George’s African American Museum and Culture Center (PGAAMCC) kicked off its four-day “More Than A Month” festival in celebration of Juneteenth and black creatives, innovators and community influencers on June 19.
The oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth, notes the liberation of the last slave plantation in Texas. However, they were informed by Union troops two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
“We are excited to celebrate Juneteenth. Not just the history but things happening with our lifestyle, our culture and our people today,” said PGAAMCC Executive Director Monica Montgomery.
Although the museum has celebrated the holiday before, this is the inaugural year of their festival. With this year’s theme inspired by the Marcus Garvey quote “Up You Mighty Race, Accomplish What You Will,” Montgomery said she wanted to bring a sense of “empowerment and responsibility” to the community.
“What I’m learning is that Prince George’s County had a long slaveholding history, the state of Maryland especially did,” said Montgomery who moved into the area from New York before becoming executive director of the museum.
“There are a lot of ways we can reconcile and make amends with that, but I think part of it is just having black and brown people and the allies that are living here today come together and forge forward in the spirit of solutions for the community.”
Activities during the first day of the festival consisted of a concert and a panel discussion.
The concert, entitled “From U Street To The Cotton Club,” was put on by artists from The In Series, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works with artists and communities to create innovative theater that is grounded in opera and song.
Singers Krislynn Perry and Nigel Rowe, accompanied by Reenie Codelka on the piano, performed songs from the early 20th century which were played during the nightlife atmosphere of Harlem, New York. Songs included “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway, “It Don’t Mean A Thing” by Duke Ellington and “Ain’t Misbehavin” by Fats Waller.
For Perry, bringing songs from this era to the public is about sharing a piece of history with the world.
“It’s about bringing the sense of knowledge especially to our people, and others as well, but just to know their heritage and background and to how awesome just being African American is,” said Perry, a D.C. native who was invited to audition for The In Series intending to do theater.
For her, being able to perform where she lives and grew up is a wonderful experience.
“We’re very powerful and influential people,” she said. “So just getting more of our young people and touching the hearts of the older people so they can bring back to their remembrance their heyday and everything like that and sharing with the young people where they come from.”
Meanwhile, Rowe started performing with The In Series when he moved to D.C. two years ago after living abroad. He said he has always loved music from that time period, finding it to have “more heart than what is typically played” today. However, he feels like it is almost a forgotten piece of history to the average person.
“(This music) is all I listen to…It’s what I love to do, it makes me very happy and’ it’s an important part of American culture that I think has been a little bit forgotten,” Rowe said.
A panel discussion hosted by Tamara Jade, a vocalist and pianist from Prince George’s County, followed the concert. Seven panelists consisting of educators, writers and business owners, participated in the discussion. Members of the audience were also allowed to share their thoughts in what would become a robust discussion on black empowerment, holidays such as Juneteenth and building a stronger community.
The group discussed topics such as how black people celebrate holidays, what makes them different from other groups of people, the best way to keep traditions alive and how black history is approached in public education.
Bernice Wooden, who recently moved to the area from New York, said she came out to the museum to see something new and learn more about black history. She was not aware the festival was happening and was pleasantly surprised by the events of the night.
“Funny enough, being a New Yorker, I was kind of naive when it comes to something like Juneteenth,” she said. “Now that I’m more committed to learning what that is, I decided not only just aware of it but practice what I preach and come out and celebrate and meet new friends and support this beautiful museum.”
The rest of the festival continued through Saturday, June 22. On Thursday, the museum hosted an interactive discussion on The Observable Universe focused on Afrofuturist films from the 1970s to present. The next day they held a summer solstice fashion show with designs by multimedia artist Quest Skinner inspired by West African, Apache and modern infused fabrics.
Finally, on the last day of the festival, they held a block party that included music, games, trivia, food, vendors and live art as well as talks with artists and community leaders on education, wellness, and financial literacy.
“I would hope that we raise consciousness around the need for black holidays, black social justice and celebrations of our accomplishments,” Montgomery said.