Observed on June 19th, Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.
If that’s news to you, or if you made it to adulthood without fully understanding what it means and how it’s observed, you’re not alone.
Victoria Jones of The CLTV (The Collective) remembers being in her 20s before she understood.
“I had heard it mentioned, but didn’t know that it was a day where people were truly celebrating,” she said. “I feel like I had missed out on that opportunity to celebrate my freedom. As far as the holidays we have to landmark different historical occasions, this might be the biggest one in terms of historically what that means— the freedom of slaves. It truly changed the fiber of the nation.”
The CLTV frequently hosts events that use art to center Black culture and encourage essential conversations. She says they all knew that they needed to mark Juneteenth, and while that often takes the form of a community festival, they wanted to go all out and do something different.
The nonprofit Black arts organization is hosting a Juneteenth Gala on Saturday, June 22nd, at The CMPLX. The event is themed “On the Shoulders of Giants,” as a tribute to Blackness and survival.
“This idea that it could be an elevated experience was super exciting to us, one where we could go all out in our Blackness,” said Victoria. She encourages attendees to “Get as African as you can, as Black as you can, in whatever that means to you. Make our ancestors smile.”
The Juneteenth Gala consists of a cocktail hour and dinner, followed by an afterparty with performances throughout.
Visual artists of The CLTV have created new pieces for an exhibition to “tell the story of Black redemption through time.” Supporters will arrive and enjoy cocktails and a musical performance by Magnolia while they mingle among the new artwork.
Next, guests will sit down to a soul food dinner prepared by Chef Fran Moseley of HM Dessert Lounge. When it came to the menu, Victoria says there was a little back and forth about whether more traditional gala food should be served but ultimately, the event is not about Westernized or European standards.
“We decided to go with the soul food menu because that’s our food. That is the one we want to celebrate with,” said Victoria. “Let’s go ahead and celebrate this day with a Black chef who’s going to cook food for our souls, that’s going to fill us up and be super tasty—and it’s going to have seasoning on it!”
Performances will occur throughout dinner including dancing with African and hip hop influences as well as some poetry.
“Some of my favorite performers will be performing this night,” said Victoria. “NuJas will be leading us through what this experience as Black Americans has been from their lens.” She says that part of the evening will culminate with a surprise guest performance.
Then there’s the afterparty, which you can purchase a separate ticket for if you can’t make the gala portion of the event. Kid Maestro and Qemist and will be spinning for a dance party to cap off the night. Tickets for the afterparty are $35.
Victoria says The CLTV has deliberately crafted this “exuberant celebration of Black American freedom” in the hopes of engaging established and emerging Black philanthropists in Memphis—an important next step in their evolution as an organization. She acknowledges that there are often strings attached to funding and it matters who is on the other side of those strings. They want to use this event to begin to tip the scales toward their work being supported and influenced by the community of Black philanthropists who invest in Memphis.
“For all the “First 48” down talk that Memphis receives, there’s a shit ton of black businesses here. I came here for the first time and didn’t just see a Black doctor. I saw numerous Black doctors, numerous Black lawyers, Black teachers… Every industry we’re in because we’re a majority of the city. There is an obvious issue with poverty, but we’re also involved in real estate development. We’re in every industry and present in that. If there’s a way for us to excite those folks so that our work can be more honest, that’s what I want to do. I’m excited to answer to Black folks.”
If you are not Black and you’re wondering if there’s space for you to respectfully participate out of appreciation for Black culture, the answer is yes.
“There’s certainly a way to show up in this space and celebrate with us,” said Victoria. “We’re called to celebrate a lot of other moments in history, some of which did not positively affect us as Black people, and we show up, so I’m not opposed to folks who aren’t Black showing up. It’s got to be in the most honorable ways.”
Victoria says a big part of that is being respectful in what you wear. Don’t show up in costume or in appropriative fashion, and come prepared to invest.
“Don’t pull up to this space just to watch it happen. If you’re showing up, I’m assuming it’s to celebrate and to invest, truly. Otherwise, it’s just a spectacle, and that will drain me.”
Victoria is adamant about setting the right environment and establishing the right mood. In a climate where we’re inundated daily with stories of injustice, so much so that some Black people are resisting watching “When They See Us” to avoid further trauma, experiences of unbridled joy matter deeply.
“The work that a lot of us have dedicated ourselves to, we miss that opportunity a lot of times because we’re working and that work can be traumatic. It can be super heavy. But if we can use this moment in history to celebrate today and be happy today, feel joyful today, feel free today then I want to do that. I, as Victoria Jones want to do that. I want to put a dress on and a head wrap and do my makeup with the sole purpose of celebrating my ancestors and raising some money for the work that I care a lot about.”
WHAT: Juneteenth Gala | On The Shoulders of Giants sponsored by We Are Memphis, Hyde Family Foundation, and First Tennessee
WHEN: Saturday, June 22 at 6:30 PM – 12 AM
WHERE: The CMPLX, 2234 Lamar Avenue
The Party – $35
The Gala – $120
VIP – $220