On June 15, the BlkFreedom Collective, a group of 10 African American museums from across the country, will come together ahead of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. and, as of May 13, is an official Washington holiday. Each museum has picked a word from the Negro National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to represent its segment of the virtual event. For its part, Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum has taken that title to heart: NAAM picked the word “hope” and—since president and CEO LaNesha DeBardelaben figured choirs are founts of it—started its own choir.
She’d been looking out on the destruction and pain of 2020, says Patrice Bell, the museum’s guest services and external affairs director. “So she said, ‘Hey, We’re gonna have a choir. I don’t know of any other museums that have choirs, but NAAM is going to have one.’” How does one go about starting a choir, though, during a pandemic that’s kept the museum itself closed? Because a call for singers didn’t seem quite right, Bell says, NAAM’s staff started with singers they know in the community. In some cases, they didn’t have to look far. “I’m actually in the choir,” Bell says. “And our museum educator, Jason Turner, is actually choir director. We have a very multi-talented team.”
The choir—which has rehearsed both online and socially distanced outdoors—will debut for the June 15th event and continue after, hopefully adding members. Its performance will be just one of the 10 events spread over nine days, which comprise NAAM’s first-ever Juneteenth Week.
Typically the museum has hosted a family celebration on June 19th (the specific day). But this year Bell wanted to do something that reminded her of bigger celebrations she's used to. “I’m actually from Oklahoma,” she says. “Juneteenth is a very big deal at home.” DeBardelaben was “completely on board," Bell says. "She said run with it. So we are running.”
NAAM is a “small and mighty” team of five right now, so Bell says they’ve partnered with other organizations—such as Seattle Theatre Group and the Space Needle—to expand the scope. Here’s what NAAM has planned, along with three other Juneteenth events in the city.
NAAM's Juneteenth Week
Jun 13 An online interactive storytime and art session for kids runs from 1pm to 2pm. Free art kits are available at NAAM on June 12. Online, free
Jun 14 Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed discusses her new book On Juneteenth with South Seattle Emerald’s Marcus Harrison Green. Online via Town Hall Seattle, $5
Jun 15 The choir sings as a part of “Juneteenth: Lift Every Voice.” Online via blkfreedom.org, free
Jun 16 Historian Carol Anderson will talk with University of Washington professor Christopher Sebastian Parker about Anderson’s new book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Online via Elliott Bay Book Company, free
Jun 16 Elevate, an education and community project with spoken word performances put on by Seattle Theatre Group, streams at 6:30pm. It’ll delve into under-discussed Black history from 1907, 1921, and 1928—the years each STG theater opened—and reckon with things like the Moore Theatre’s Jim Crow–era segregated entrance on the side of the building. Online, free with an RSVP
Jun 17 NAAM hosts a Drive-In Black Graduation Youth Night. Graduates will be projected onto a big screen (which is also available to stream online) and then have a movie screening after (yet to be determined). Lumen Field North Lot or online, free
Jun 18 A collaboration between the Space Needle, One Vibe Africa, Wa Na Wari, and NAAM, this virtual show will feature Black and African American artists—poets, musicians, dancers, or visual artists. Online, free
Jun 19 NAAM and the city’s Rec’N The Streets will host an in-person Jamboree at Judkins Park and Playfields in the Central District. There’ll be food, storytelling, live music performances, food vendors, youth engagement from various local sports teams (Seahawks, Sounders, Mariners, Storm), Covid vaccinations, blood pressure screenings and other health education, and horseback rides. Bell says NAAM and the city have worked out pandemic protocols to maintain social distancing, such as having volunteers monitoring capacity. Judkins Park, free
Jun 20 NAMM will give packages of Black STEM-related books to kids in Spokane at the Carl Maxey Center. Spokane, free
Jun 21 Along with Elliott Bay Books and Wa Na Wari, NAAM will host speaker and author Paul Porter for an online discussion of entertainment and education. Online, free
Other ways to honor Juneteenth in Seattle this year
Jun 19 King County Equity Now and Africatown–Central District are hosting a march from the intersection of 23rd and Madison to Jimi Hendrix Park. There’ll be live music from Sevyn Streeter and Gifted Gab, along with food from Communion and other Black vendors. Central District, free
Jun 19 The Central District’s Wa Na Wari is a center for Black art and culture located in a fifth-generation Black-owned home. Starting at 6pm on June 19th, the center will host a celebration in its backyard. Local “consciousness rock” musician BluMeadows will play, and you can buy drinks from cocktail creator Erudite and Stone. Wa Na Wari, free
Jun 19 During this storytelling hour, presented by MOHAI and the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Delbert Richardson will discuss resistance during American slavery and Jim Crow, and highlight “the resilience of Black brilliance.” Online, free