Amherst’s Juneteenth Jubilee: Sharing joy, yearning

University of Massachusetts Professor Amilcar Shabazz speaks at the Juneteenth Jubilee, sponsored by the Black Business Association of Amherst Area, on June 19 at the Mill River Recreation Area in Amherst.

University of Massachusetts Professor Amilcar Shabazz speaks at the Juneteenth Jubilee, sponsored by the Black Business Association of Amherst Area, on June 19 at the Mill River Recreation Area in Amherst. PHOTOS FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Lauren Mills performs with the Pamoja Drum and Dance Collective during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee on June 19.

Lauren Mills performs with the Pamoja Drum and Dance Collective during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee on June 19. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

UAmilcar Shabazz presents Darius Cage with the 2024 Black Youth Excellence Award in recognition of his activism and community service, from the Black Business Association of Amherst Area.

UAmilcar Shabazz presents Darius Cage with the 2024 Black Youth Excellence Award in recognition of his activism and community service, from the Black Business Association of Amherst Area.

University of Massachusetts Professor Amilcar Shabazz speaks during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee sponsored by the Black Business Association of Amherst Area on Wednesday at the Mill River Recreation Area.

University of Massachusetts Professor Amilcar Shabazz speaks during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee sponsored by the Black Business Association of Amherst Area on Wednesday at the Mill River Recreation Area. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Community members share a meal during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee on Wednesday at the Mill River Recreation Area.

Community members share a meal during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee on Wednesday at the Mill River Recreation Area. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Carlie Tartakov, front, and Sonja Latimore fill their plates with soul food by Henryne’s Catering during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee on Wednesday at the Mill River Recreation Area in Amherst.

Carlie Tartakov, front, and Sonja Latimore fill their plates with soul food by Henryne’s Catering during the 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee on Wednesday at the Mill River Recreation Area in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 06-27-2024 7:10 PM

AMHERST — Dozens of Amherst community members braved the heat to gather at Mill River Park on June 19 for the Black Business Association of Amherst Area’s 15th annual Juneteenth Jubilee, the town’s longest-running Juneteenth celebration. Friends and strangers alike shared warm food from Henryne’s Catering as an array of local performers, speakers, and poets stepped up to the mic to share what this momentous day means to them, evoking both smiles and tears.

“Juneteenth, to me, means celebrating Black life, Black divine being, and Black joy,” said Lauren Mills, who led songs and dances to a collection of upbeat drum rhythms as part of the Pamoja Drum and Dance Collective. 

Other music was provided by Maurice “Soulfighter” Taylor, who served as the event’s DJ and collected words from the audience to piece together a powerful poem on the spot that spoke to the significance of Juneteenth — and still managed to include the suggested words “ice cream” and “butterflies.”

“Imagine being stuck in a town, and all around, people are suddenly free,” he said in the poem. “Imagine being stuck in this town, oblivious to the freedom to come.”

The afternoon event featured the presentation of the Black Excellence Youth Award to Darius Cage, a recent Amherst Regional High School graduate. Cage was honored for his inspiring community activism, which included bringing a youth perspective to the town’s Community Safety Working Group, which was created to advise on police reform and policing alternatives in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. He also worked to support the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service Department.

Despite coming face to face several times with police profiling, said University of Massachusetts Professor Amilcar Shabazz, Cage has continued to fight for positive change in his community using his experiences and those of his peers to inform his advocacy.

“Don’t let this end,” Cage said. “These days that we come together and, you know, eat food and come together to share ideas … I feel like the more time we have together is more time we can accomplish great things.”

After ice cream was distributed and kids swam in the nearby pool to cool off, the celebration culminated with a speech by Shabazz. 

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

High-speed police chase in Hadley ends in crash, arrest on Hampton Inn lawn
Working group to examine future of money-losing Cherry Hill Golf Course in Amherst
Anthony Fyden: Say no to green power grab, don’t let go of local control
Grant Ingle: UMass chancellor’s task force plan ‘deficient’
Guest columnist Dr. David Gottsegen: Age issue not so key as question of marbles
Guest columnist Ali Wicks-Lim: Racism is in our way

Shabazz emphasized the importance of organizing, whether for protests or for joyful gatherings like the one on Juneteenth. 

“Power concedes nothing without a demand — you have to keep raising it,” he said. “You have to get organized and you have to put forth the  demand.”

He also emphasized the importance of reparations for the injustices of the past and those of the present. In particular, he noted how the lack of affordable housing in the area, and lack of housing opportunities for Black people, continue to perpetuate injustice. 

“The problems and disparities, they’re still here,” he told the crowd. “We are organized and we’re going to stay organized and we’re going to stay pushing until we make this place welcome us and have a sense of belonging for us here. And not just the college professors on their little tenure, making their little money, but everybody across the board that works here … If you can work here, you want to be able to live here.”

Despite the heavy nature of the topics discussed and the tears that were shed, spirits at the 15th Juneteenth Jubilee ran as high as the temperature.

Strangers became friends, sharing their experiences and finding hope in community advocacy and organizing. Music hummed through the ground as everyone danced, laughed, and celebrated together. 

Keeping this celebration free, fun, and meaningful has been an ongoing project by the Cage and Shabazz families, who were instrumental in creating the event. 

Shabazz highlighted the Cage family for their activism in the community. He also put the spotlight on Pat Ononibaku, the board chair of the Black Business Association of Amherst Area who played a major role in organizing the event, and who also works every day to aid, advocate for, and elevate Black businesses throughout Amherst. 

The biggest reason for all of this organization and activism, Shabazz said, is creating a better future for Black youth.

“Young people deserve better than what they are getting. Here are young Black, Indigenous people of color who deserve better than what they get here in this community,” he said. “That’s what we’re organized for. To try and support and to encourage and incite their creative energies, to incite their entrepreneurial energies, to incite their collective and cooperative energies to fight to do better, and to make this community better and to make a place in this community.”

The Jubilee was supported by the Amherst Cultural Council, Amherst Media, Bridge for Unity, Greenfield Cooperative Bank and Sankofa Gumbo.