San Diego theater artists mark Juneteenth with plays, music and advocacy
Three different events this month mark holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans
On June 19, 1865, Texas finally freed its enslaved Black Americans, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. That day in Texas — nicknamed Juneteenth — has come to be known nationally as Freedom Day, celebrating the official end of slavery in all of the United States.
San Diego actor Joy Yvonne Jones grew up in Houston and remembers Juneteenth as a day of great celebration for her extended family.
“I grew up in a predominantly Black area, Third Ward, and Juneteenth was a huge event,” Jones said. “There are cookouts, church get-togethers ... you may be walking in the Juneteenth parade. It was always a display of Black excellence for the entire city.”
Now, as president of the San Diego Black Artist Collective, Jones is excited to bring a little bit of that Texas spirit to San Diego, with the inaugural Say It Loud Festival, a weekly series of online and live Juneteenth events that conclude on June 19. Jones said she has dreamed of organizing the festival for years and hopes that it becomes an annual tradition. She’s happy to be collaborating with several local theater companies on this year’s festival.
San Diego Black Artist Collective was created in February 2020, when cast members of the Old Globe’s production of August Wilson’s “Jitney” gathered one evening for dinner with a few dozen Black San Diego theater artists. Jones said the spirit in the room was so invigorating that the local artists agreed to meet monthly. Then, the murder of George Floyd galvanized the group to organize formally as the BAC, with the goal of supporting local Black theater productions and artists.
BAC’s Say It Loud Festival is one of three upcoming local theater events marking the 165th anniversary of Juneteenth between June 13 and 19. Here’s a look at all three events.
Say It Loud Festival
BAC presents its inaugural Say It Loud Festival, featuring a mix of live events and filmed original plays by local Black playwrights June 13 through 19. Partner theaters are New Village Arts, La Jolla Playhouse, Moxie Theatre, Diversionary Theatre and San Diego Repertory Theatre. Tickets are by suggestion donation. Streaming links and further details on all shows can be found at sdblackartistcollective.com/sayitloud. Here’s the schedule:
Opening Night Ceremony: Milena (Sellers) Phillips directs this festival-opening event that will feature poetry and the singing of the song known as the Black National Anthem. There will also be a presentation of colors by members of the Buffalo Soldier Mounted Cavalry Unit, a troop of volunteer re-enactors who honor the contributions of Black mounted cavalry soldiers who served the U.S. on the Western frontier beginning in 1866. Viewers can watch the ceremony online, or in person. 6 p.m. June 13 at The Flower Fields, 5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad. For in-person tickets, visit newvillagearts.org/event/juneteenth-jubilee/.
Stay and Play Book Club: Ahmed K. Dents of San Diego Rep moderates this live online discussion, led by Real J. Wallace about James Baldwin’s 1963 book “The Fire Next Time,” which includes the essay “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.” 7:30 p.m. June 14.
“The Mango Tree”: Bibi Mama wrote, co-directed with Claire Simba and stars in this world premiere solo play about a sister, a brother, a river goddess and a mango that is just out of reach. Mama is a first-generation Beninese-American performer who recently graduated from the Old Globe USD Graduate Acting MFA Program. Her one-woman play was inspired by West African folk tales, and it’s an homage to the tradition passed down by her father and an exploration of loss. Streaming at 6 p.m. June 14; 8:30 p.m. June 15 and 18; 6 p.m. June 19.
“And We Danced”: Hip hop artist, playwright and activist Miki Vale wrote this play that offers a glimpse into the history of LGBTQ pioneers Ruth Ellis and Babe Franklin, whose juke joint in Detroit, known as “the gay spot,” was a refuge for gay and lesbian Black Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s. Joy Yvonne Jones directs. Streaming at 6 p.m. June 15; 8 p.m. June 18; 8:30 p.m. June 19.
“Get On Board”: A co-creation of Joy Yvonne Jones, John Wells III, Bryan Barbarin and Eboni Muse, with music direction by Leonard Patton and Barbarin, this revue showcases the evolution of Black music through time, starting with African drums and moving to contemporary hip hop. Show also features Erin Vanderhyde and Andre Caston. Streaming at 6 p.m. June 16; 8 p.m. June 17; 6 p.m. June 18; 7 p.m. June 19.
BAC Take Over: We Are Listening: BAC members Milena (Sellers) Phillips and Zack King co-host this live online discussion of film, featuring local filmmakers Michael Taylor and Jayden Dail. 6 p.m. June 17.
Artists 4 Black Lives SD
Artists 4 Black Lives SD founder Eboni Muse is coordinating her second annual Juneteenth celebration beginning at 1 p.m. June 19 in Balboa Park’s Pepper Grove Park. This year, the La Mesa singer-actor is collaborating with the BAC and the youth organization Black in PUSD, as well as sponsor OB Playhouse.
The program will feature nonstop live entertainment, including music, song, poetry, dance and advocacy. There will also be a booth fair featuring organizations such the BIPOC Support Foundation, Give Light Doula & Advocacy Services, Jewish Family Services, Waisted Spirituality and some food and drink businesses.
Among the many featured performers on the afternoon schedule are the Junkyard Dance Crew, JAMAR, Poetic Artistry, Friidae, Alex Rodriguez, Sutheshna Mani, Keri Miller, Joy Yvonne Jones, Kyle Leatherbury, Supreme Confidence, LoKey, Kevin Phan and more.
Last year for Juneteenth, Muse organized Artists 4 Black Lives SD’s first event, “Experience,” a sit-in/sing-in performance and protest event in Balboa Park that featured more than 25 performers singing, speaking and reading poetry on social justice issues. She said last year’s event was started as an “artist outcry from the racism that constantly plagues our country and the lack of response from almost all of San Diego’s major theater companies.”
“We were angry, hurt, tired and felt used and ignored,” she said in an email. “We cried, we sang, we danced, we shouted, we laughed, we learned and we had a good time with the community. So many people walked away feeling as if they were in a better place mentally and emotionally. But our work isn’t done. COVID-19 has rocked the world and we all know that social justice is an ongoing fight.”
Pepper Grove Park is located just east of the Centro Cultural de la Raza on Park Boulevard. For more, visit facebook.com/artists4blacklivessd/.
The Old Globe Juneteenth Celebration
The Globe’s fifth annual celebration, being hosted in collaboration with the George L. Stevens Senior Center, will take place from noon to 1:15 p.m. June 19 in the Globe’s outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. The Globe AXIS event will feature cabaret performances by a number of artists, including members of the BAC. Admission is free, but reservations are required by calling (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org.
— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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