Even a couple of months ago, the organizers of Stay Black and Live were hoping to put on a traditional Juneteenth event, complete with a parade and lots of people gathering together to celebrate. “Like a lot of nonprofits and organizations doing signature events, we kept thinking okay, let’s not call it yet, let’s not pivot yet. It could happen,” says Pamela Benson Owens, the acting executive director of Six Square and a member of the team that’s creating the festival. “And then of course, as time goes on, we were like, oh goodness, we’re going to have to pivot.”
Owens says that once the decision was made to move the event online, the collaborating organizers of the festival made the transition easily. “It was such an easy transition, because we’re just used to being in the space of resilience and flexibility,” Owens says. “So once we made up our minds that hey, we’re not going to not do something… the pieces started falling into place.”
With the safety of the community as their top priority, the team worked quickly to create a ‘virtual’ festival that can be streamed from the comfort and safety of one’s home while still retaining as much of the feel and flavor of a traditional in-person celebration as possible. “We’re doing all forms of artistic expression, we’re anchoring it with some important pieces, and we’re really looking forward to it,” Owens says. “We’ve never done it before, but there’s a lot we’ve never done before in the past twelve weeks.”
The live stream will have many of the elements that would’ve been a part of an in-person celebration, just in digital form. “We’re going to have everything from poetry reading, we’re going to have special guests doing some performances, there’ll be a film screening, raffle prizes, a dance party – all included in this live stream,” Owens says. “You know, the goal is that people will feel comfortable enough in their own homes to really engage in the celebration and be part of it.”
One thing will be missing from the livestream version of the festival, though – the Juneteenth parade. “Don’t think we didn’t talk about it!” Owens says with a laugh, adding that the team threw out some ideas but never quite figured out how to make a virtual parade happen. Losing the parade was painful, but there were some positive things about this year’s challenges, too, according to Owens. “It’s been a more intentional, insightful, strategic approach, because it had to be. And I want to explore in years to come what if we took that lens every time we approach this event?” she says. This year’s forced experiment might become a yearly feature; if next year’s celebration is a more traditional, in-person event, livestreaming could still help the community’s elder population join in without suffering in the June heat.
Coming during such a trying time, this year’s Juneteenth celebration will include educational and thoughtful elements, but is also, Owens hopes, an opportunity for joy. “It’s a time for learning and time for growth, but also a time to just say it’s okay – let’s be in the guilt-free zone on having a little fun,” she says. “It’s been heavy. Let’s have a little fun, let’s celebrate. So I think there’s a good, delicate balance with that.”