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City Council gets first look at proposed Juneteenth celebration

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The president and CEO of the Cool Spring Downtown District unveiled an initial concept for a proposed multi-day Juneteenth celebration in Fayetteville on Monday night. This would mark a first for a collaborative downtown district and city-sponsored tie-in to the federal holiday.

Following the success of the Cool Spring Downtown District New Year’s Eve celebration in Festival Park, Bianca Shoneman proposed a similar type of major event for Juneteenth.

She discussed what the event could include during a Fayetteville City Council work session on Monday, where some members were not completely receptive to initial plans for the community celebration. As proposed, “Juneteenth: Reclamation – A Joyful Americana Jubilee" would be a weekend-long celebration.

Council members who opposed some of the initial plans did express their approval of holding what they would consider to be a more appropriate Juneteenth celebration with the area’s African American community in mind.

Juneteenth is a federal holiday commemorating the abolishment of slavery in the United States.

Shoneman told the council that 10,000 to 12,000 people attended Festival Park for the New Year’s celebration that featured a headlining bill of four national hip hop acts. “This event was truly a unifying event for our community,” she said. “We hope to do it again with you guys, setting a tradition that Fayetteville is a great place to live …”

The City Council voted Jan. 10 to make Juneteenth a city holiday. After that, Shoneman said she was asked to come up with ideas for what the city might do to celebrate the occasion.

"I was called and asked to do that. We were asked by management. Just recently asked," she said Thursday. "We fully recognize the value of putting together a committee. We needed to have a general idea of what to do.''

Shoneman said the information presented to the council was modeled after the annual Juneteenth Music Festival in Denver, Colorado.

Shoneman spoke of a multi-day, multi-street festival that would bring together all of the planned activities from the county to the downtown district.

The concept, which she estimated would cost $110,000 to put on, included a celebration kickoff with a VIP-catered dining event designed to feature prominent chefs. Simultaneously, an indoor program would offer an educational experience with a keynote speaker “well versed in black arts culture and history.”

Trolly tours – perhaps a spoken word, comedy or even history tour on wheels – would be available to festival-goers.

The first day of the celebration, Friday, June 17, would run from 6 to 9 p.m. The following day, Saturday, June 18, would be devoted to a range of other tied-in activities in the downtown area from noon to 9 p.m.

“Our goal is to provide a thoughtful, welcoming and (joyfully) entertaining event that honors and complements established Juneteenth events that will be held in the various municipalities throughout Cumberland County and the surrounding area,” according to a Cool Spring Downtown District PowerPoint.

The proposal called for Franklin Street and other downtown side streets to be closed for activities. Donaldson Street would be reserved “to engage black-owned restaurants, black-owned food trucks and various wineries and breweries," with some of them run by African Americans, Shoneman said.

Maxwell Street would feature an artisan row and second stage for local talent and entertainment. A primary festival stage will be erected at the corner of Franklin and Gillespie streets, to be first used for the opening ceremony with the involvement of local historic churches.

“We’ll have national touring Americana performers and some speeches …” said Shoneman. “The impetus for focusing on black Americana music for this event is to reclaim the genre of musical tradition. Far too long it’s been erased from the canon. In the last decade there has been a resurgence of contemporary black artists and the genre.”

A fireworks display would close out the event.

Shoneman cited Franklin Street as the main thoroughfare for the Juneteenth celebration – which would be populated with black-owned businesses, nonprofits and “a variety of wandering entertainment.”

Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram questioned the Franklin Street location.

"I’m going to be honest, but I’m not too happy about it,” Ingram said. “I like the fireworks of it. I’m not very interested in Franklin Street. I think a good amount of what is expressed, I think, why Franklin Street? When we look at the history of programming and where we choose to do events, I think this is a sidebar compared to that. I think Person Street should come before Franklin Street.”

“I would not want this to be associated with the Civil War museum,” Ingram added, alluding to the long-planned N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction Center.

Mayor Mitch Colvin said he didn’t like the plans “all being laid out before we have input.” He suggested that some black organizations should provide input into the celebration.

“This is something we need to do,” he said. “Bring more parties to the table.”

Councilwoman Yvonne Kinston asked about the price of the VIP-catered dining event on opening night.

“We’re not quite sure about that,” Shoneman said. “We want to make it affordable.”

Ingram said it might be a good idea to create a community planning committee to help develop the plans.

“The reason if it’s not as complete as we would have liked,” City Manager Doug Hewett said, “is because we’re literally running” to get the concept finalized before the city’s planned Juneteenth celebration dates.

The mayor asked Shoneman to return for an update during the last council meeting of the month on Feb. 28.

Councilman Larry Wright voiced opposition to plans for bluegrass being one of the featured musical genres, saying that would not be a draw for blacks.

“The concept of Juneteenth. The history of Juneteenth. What actually does that mean for black people in America and how does that tie in to American history?” he asked.

The City Council later decided to “appropriate the event with conditions.” It would set aside the budget, Colvin said, but no money would be dispersed until the council is comfortable with the finalized plans.

Kinston cast the lone vote opposing the appropriation with conditions.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, City Council, Juneteenth celebration

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