By Jessica L. Dupree
Edited by Darlene Aderoju
Octavia Edwards is a powerhouse with a powerful mission. As a curator of African American culture and an ambassador of liberation, the change maker has founded the iconic Juneteenth Freedom Fest Charleston Celebration, set to kick off at the Riverfront Park in North Charleston, South Carolina on June 19.
And the fun-filled event has a meaningful purpose. Edwards tells Heart & Soul she hopes that those who attend will “have a greater sense of pride and community, from the adults to our youth. I want people that attend to become more engaged in their community for the purpose of building, organizing and utilizing the resources that will be available.”
The Juneteenth Freedom Fest is jam-packed with informative, exciting activities for guests of all ages — from an HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) College Fair, to an African dance and drum presentation. Voter registration will also be available during the big event.
Three years in the making, the Juneteenth Freedom Fest commemorates the lives of African people who were forcefully enslaved in the U.S. Also noteworthy, Edwards felt it was pivotal to host the event in South Carolina because of the city’s profound history.
“Charleston is definitely abundant in rich black history because the Port of Charleston was the largest slave port in the United States and most enslaved Africans passed through the city,” she tells Heart & Soul. “Nonetheless, education is the foundation to breaking generational bondages and chains, but raising your consciousness is key and a process that takes commitment, through studying and becoming engaged in our community. African American and Black history in Charleston runs deep. Our heritage in Charleston is rich and unique, especially Gullah Geechee History. Those who attend [the Juneteenth Freedom Fest] will leave feeling liberated.”
The large-scale event, in remembrance of the progress of the Black community, will serve as a celebration of resilience, beauty and strength.
Edwards speaks to Heart & Soul about the inspiration behind Charleston’s historical large-scale Juneteenth Freedom Fest celebration, and the changes she hopes to see in the youth and community after the festival.
What Inspired you to create the festival?
Actually, a simple discussion on social media in 2017. A good friend of mine was expressing his frustrations about how our people will celebrate the 4th of July and do it big, but when it comes to Juneteenth, nothing. Someone made a comment and said a lot of people are not aware about it and I piggy-backed off of that comment and said, ‘If they don’t teach it in schools or talk about it in church, how else are we supposed to know?’ Then I said it is up to us to celebrate Juneteenth, do it big, fireworks and all. His response was, ‘Yo sis, if you do that you have my 100% support.’ That was how the seed was planted. The original date was actually June 19th, 2020, but due to the pandemic, we pushed it to 2021. So here we are!
As your conference targets the youth and focuses on community engagement, what is your message to them about freedom?
We came a long way, but we are not there yet. We still have work to do. While we celebrate ourselves and our triumphs, measuring progress against freedom, we must use opportunities like this to build and organize with one another and pave the way for our youth so they are equipped to accept the baton and pick up where we left off in the pursuit of freedom, without any systemic oppression.
The event will highlight youth scholarships. What are your thoughts on the relevance of African American studies in today’s world?
In today’s world, African American studies is vital. In fact, it should be a requirement because we have no American history without African American history. Along with African American studies I would like to see our youth study African and world history, because our existence in history did not begin in the 1600s, it was interrupted. Our youth need to know our whole story because knowing the whole story will give them a much-needed different perspective of the world in general and the part we played in it.
What type of changes do you want to see in the lives of people who attend the festival?
The type of changes I would like to see in the lives of people who attend this historic celebration is to have a greater sense of pride and community, from the adults to our youth. We will have HBCU representatives there, voter registration tables, non-profit organizations focused on youth education empowerment, political and economic literacy and much more.
We have endured so much oppression as a people and still we stand and fight for true freedom. Juneteenth Freedom Fest Charleston is about our community coming together and celebrating us and commemorating those who have sacrificed so much to get us where we are today. Although, we are going to have a fantastic time. Our mission is to educate and provide our people with resources that will empower them and their children.
Also, we will be having two virtual panel discussions, one on Tuesday, June 15, titled “The Importance of HBCUs in the 21st Century” and our second panel discussion is on Thursday, June 17th, titled “The Power of the Black Vote & Beyond.” Our people are in for a real treat! Follow and Like Juneteenth Freedom Fest Charleston to keep up with the updates.
How important is it for people to understand the significance of Juneteenth? What common misconceptions about Juneteenth do you want to clarify?
Let’s start off with common misconceptions about Juneteenth that I would like to clarify. Juneteenth isn’t the oldest African American holiday related to the abolishment of slavery. Also, Juneteenth does not mark the end of slavery in the United States. It wasn’t until Dec. 18, 1865 that those who were enslaved in Kentucky and Delaware were no longer enslaved when the 13th Amendment was adopted. The significance of Juneteenth is more about it being a milestone in history. It demonstrates the long, enduring fight for freedom. It took nearly two and half years for those who were enslaved in Texas to finally be free from enslavement when the union soldiers arrived to enforce the emancipation. Although Juneteenth may be considered small to some or maybe even irrelevant, trust me I have heard it all, but make no mistake, Juneteenth is a pivotal moment amongst many other pivotal moments in African American history and it is worthy to be celebrated.
For more information on the exciting and Juneteenth Freedom Fest, visit www.JFFCHARLESTON.com
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a vital American holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19th, 1865, and more generally, the emancipation of all enslaved Africans throughout the former Confederate States of America. Also known as Freedom Day, or Juneteenth Independence Day, this is a day when we can truly celebrate the journey of freedom and the pursuit of equality for all people. Over the years, Juneteenth has become a larger and more vital celebration, seeking to acknowledge America’s past and move forward with a full appreciation of the contributions, ingenuity, and sacrifices that were made by those who came before us and their descendants, to get us where we are today.