Kunya Rowley on The Juneteenth Experience

On Monday, June 19, from 4-10pm at the Miami Beach Bandshell, South Florida is honoring Juneteenth with The Juneteenth Experience. The free event welcomes everyone to celebrate together with music, spoken word, film, and dance to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans. The event organizer, Hued Songs founder and director, Kunya Rowley, hopped on to the Jitney to tell us what we can expect from The Juneteenth Experience.

What were the steps to putting together The Juneteenth Experience at the Bandshell?

Kunya Rowley: Truly, building the Juneteenth Experience is a yearlong journey. This is our 3rd time producing this performance and each one is unique and different. It begins with us building from a central theme. This year, our Juneteenth performance is rooted around the question of what it means to belong. Next, it starts with a stellar cast and creative team. When we pull together a team, we are looking for folks who are collaborative, curious, and talented.

Our team for this performance includes a stellar cast of multi-talented musicians, dancers from Zest Collective under the direction of our choreographer Gentry George, and a truly amazing band. And there’s a lot of magic to be made because we’re starting with a powerful script by our lead writer, Miriam King. We then start to pull it all together. We kick off rehearsal in May through June, working to create a really beautiful show. For me, one of the most special things about putting this together is that we ask the cast to contribute to the design of what this show will be and look like. Every artist has a critical point of view, so we make space to ensure everyone involved is able to bring their whole selves and voice to the process.  

What can attendees expect at the event?

Folks can expect a powerful performance at the end of a really special day. This year, we’re really proud to share that the Juneteenth Experience is the official Juneteenth celebration for The City of Miami Beach. Folks can come to the Bandshell early and checkout a a jazz picnic powered by The City of Miami Beach from 4PM-6PM, doors will then open to the bandshell, where we’ll have music pumping. At 6:30PM, part one of the Experience begins, which will inlcude the screening of short films centering Black joy and liberation by local creatives. Then at 7:45PM we’ll have some special remarks for city and county officials, including the Mayor of Miami Beach, followed by an incredible performance at 8PM.

Many Americans (including myself) weren’t aware of Juneteenth until the last couple years. To what do you attribute it’s increase in attention?

This is true. Awareness around Juneteenth has ebbed and flowed for decades. Very often, the “re-emergence” of Juneteenth is precipitated by a shift in our country’s racial landscape. In 2020, it was the murder of George Floyd that brought about the awareness of Juneteenth. My hope is that building The Juneteenth Experience into an annual celebration helps to keep the conversation around Black joy, liberation, and empathy at the forefront of mind all year long and helps to continue to embed Juneteenth in our annual conversations.

If someone can’t make it to the Bandshell what are some other ways to commemorate Juneteenth? 

First and foremost, if someone can’t make it to the Bandshell, they can catch the entire performance via livestream. They can find it by following Hued Songs on our platform or going to our website. I’d also like to encourage folks to commemorate by learning about local Black organizations within their communities and finding ways to support their work. Juneteenth is about celebrating Black liberation and we can’t do that until every organization that is working towards that- big and small- is healthy. 

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David Rolland

David Rolland edits the Jitney blog. He is the author of the novels Yo-Yo & The End of the Century.