Annie Weatherby-Flowers – along with Mona Winston – are the trailblazers when it comes to Madison’s annual Juneteenth Celebration. The longtime co-chairs of the committee that organized the Madison’s Juneteenth Day celebration every year for nearly three decades founded the event back in 1990 and have put incredible energy into the event every year over the years.
Winston is now living in Mississippi. And Weatherby-Flowers is ready to pass the torch to the younger generation.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. That’s a really long time,” Weatherby-Flowers tells Madison365. “I’ve picked a group of young people – for me, they are very young – who are doing great work behind the scenes in this community to carry on the torch for Juneteenth. Those young people are rock stars.”
Weatherby is talking about the Kujichagulia Advisory Board – made up of Prenicia Clifton, Derek Johnson, Roderquita Moore, Joshua Wright, Jimmy Cheffen, Janine Stephens, Tyson Jackson, Tara Wilhelmi, Kimberly Willams and Torvic Caradine. Weatherby has been acting as their adviser and mentor as the board organizes the annual event.
Johnson, who is the assistant director for engineering outreach for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used to perform spoken-word poetry at the Juneteenth event back in the day … now he’s helping to organize and plan the event.
“Annie Weatherby-Flowers and Mona Winston worked so hard to bring Juneteenth to Madison and to help it grow every year,” Johnson tells Madison365. “As a kid growing up in Madison, it was always a day of great pride and great fun to see black people come together and celebrate and really be a community at Juneteenth at Penn Park.
“Annie made it clear to us that Juneteenth needs more energy and she’s put in so many years of hard work to get it going and keep it going. She was really looking for the other folks in the community, particularly young professionals in the community, who can really take this to the next level,” Johnson adds. “We’re all very excited to be a part of this and Annie has been encouraging us on.”
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, a day when African-American slaves in Texas were told by Union forces that they were free. They were the final group of slaves to realize their freedom. Deep in the Confederacy, they were unaware of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation almost two years earlier. A celebration of the day has been held annually in Texas ever since, which eventually spread to other states.
Madison’s Juneteenth always has quite a bit of history – it’s an educational event – but also a lot of entertainment and fun. So instead of canceling the event – like many have done in Madison and beyond due to the coronavirus pandemic – Kujichagulia Madison Center for Self Determination will be holding Madison’s Juneteenth Celebration as a virtual event.
“This team has been working hard to plan the 2020 Virtual Juneteenth and they will be leading the charge at least for two years,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “Since we have to go virtual we will still be doing the same kind of programming – youth activities, presenters, speakers, performers. They are pulling it all together.”
In collaboration with community partners, Virtual Juneteenth 2020 will present a series of virtual events to promote political responsibility, educational advancement, sufficiency, good health, social responsibility and collective well-being within the Madison black community, according to a press release from the board.
“We were planning this like a normal Juneteenth before the coronavirus pandemic became the thing that it is. But we will take it as a blessing in disguise and we will try to get to more folks who are used to being online and doing things in virtual spaces,” Johnson says. “We’re well-positioned and poised to continue the legacy of Juneteenth in a much different way.”
“We already have 100 young people signed up to be a part of the narratives and storytime,” Weatherby-Flowers adds. “It’s very exciting. We may keep a virtual piece going from now on.”
For a while now, the Kujichagulia Advisory Board hs been meeting every Saturday to plan the event – and sometimes in-between.
Kujichagulia Advisory Board member Janine Stephens is the Juneteenth coordinator this year.
“Madison’s Juneteenth event has continued to be a staple event in this community for well over 30 years. Despite the event going virtual this year, we are excited to provide awesome events that will cater to every age demographic,” Stephens tells Madison365. “Our planning team is excited to partner with many key organizations to ensure this event is fun and inclusive all while pulling in traditional historical aspects of the event in which focuses on black excellence and black resilience. I think with all that is currently going on in our community and our country this event will be right on time!”
Kujichagulia Advisory Board member Prenicia Clifton, director of UW Madison’s Office of Precollege/Youth Protection and Compliance, says that there is no time like the present to celebrate Juneteenth.
“It is a reminder that we must continue to fight for the freedom of Black people,” Clifton tells Madison365. “While Juneteenth is said to be the day of emancipation for the remaining African-American slaves in the US, it also serves as a reminder that things can and will change. Juneteenth is a celebration of unity and the spirit of tenacity within Black People.”
The theme for the 2020 Juneteenth Celebration will be “Exemplifying Our Legacy of Resilience.” The community will miss the entertaining annual parade that kicks off the event at Fountain of Life Worship Center every Juneteenth, but the virtual Juneteenth will have an array of virtual artistic and cultural presentations, displays, community conversations and other activities. And the events will take place over a week starting with art classes for youth, dance, and history of hip-hop on Monday, June 15.
“We will have a component of Juneteenth that just talks about COVID-19 and the impact on our community. It’s a week full of activities,” Weatherby says. “I was, at first, just thinking we would do a weekend, but to really do all of the things that we need to do, it had to be a week.”
The opening ceremony for the Juneteenth Celebration will take place on Friday, June 19 followed by community line dance lessons and “A Tribute to Black Music: Club Quarantine.” The closing ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.
Kujichagulia Madison Center for Self Determination, a non-profit that Weatherby-Flowers and Winston founded in 2006 that promotes African-American cultural and educational events, will host the event. This year’s younger organizers realize the amazing legacy that they are continuing.
“This is Annie’s baby. She didn’t want to let it go. It’s hard to send it off and trust that people are going to do right by it,” Johnson says. “I think that she puts a lot of trust in this Juneteenth Advisory Committee and that enabled her to take a step back and empower us to take the torch.”
“I have health issues and I’m getting older. I don’t want Juneteenth to die with me,” she says. “That’s why the young people are so important. It’s time for the new era to do their thing and maybe we’ll have a resurgence in attendance.
“But, yes, these young people that I have picked are just great community members and great people,” she adds. “I think this is a great opportunity for them to not only do Juneteenth but to also do Kujichagalia.”