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New ‘keeper of the flame’ for Juneteenth

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell

The 19th Annual Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival is a few weeks away and off to a brand new start with a new executive director, Telisa Franklin, who says festival-goers can expect to see something a little different this year.

"With tremendous challenge comes great opportunity to accomplish incredible things as the Lord helps us," said the 30-something Franklin, a licensed minister, who grew up in the Douglass community, where the three-day festival long has been anchored.

"I appreciate the wonderful opportunity to lead Juneteenth forward. This year, we want to pull the entire community together in a multi-cultural celebration. We want to celebrate all of our people, not just African Americans. There is something for everyone at Juneteenth."

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Memphis did not have a Juneteenth celebration until Glynn Johns Reed made in happen in the early 1990s.

"I feel the time is right to pass the torch to a younger executive director who understands the vision of Juneteenth and what the celebration means to this city," said Reed from her office in New Orleans, where she publishes the Black Pages magazine.

"Telisa Franklin was absolutely the right person to carry this event forward," said Reed, who will continue to act in an advisory position to ensure a smooth transition.

A native of New Orleans, Reed said she was divinely directed to establish a Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival in Memphis.

"It was 19 years ago that I felt the Lord speaking to me," said Reed. "I was asleep and I saw the word 'Juneteenth' written in block letters. My birthday is June 10th. When you spell that out the letters are almost identical, except for an extra 'e'. That moment really spoke to me, and here we are, nearly 20 years later."

The first celebration was a church function called "Summer in the Shade." With live music, games, rides, and lots of food, the carnival atmosphere easily translated into Juneteenth in subsequent years.

The 2012 Annual Juneteenth & Heritage Festival will run Wednesday through Friday, June 15-17, in the historic Douglass Park in North Memphis. Franklin, who organized the Memphis Youthful Praise of Douglass, is clearly ready to roll.

The three-day festival will feature live entertainment by gospel, jazz, R&B, blues, rap, classical and neo-soul artists. Food and merchandise vendors, a job fair, exhibits, dancers, storytelling, walk-jog-a-thon, basketball, softball, family reunions, class reunions, horseback riding, picnics, and more – including The New Tri-State Defender's 2012 Health Fair – are planned.

This year's theme is "Honoring African-American Educators," with a tribute gathering planned at the Memphis Hilton Hotel in East Memphis at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 14. Vintage posters from past years will be on display. Local artist and journalist Wiley Henry will unveil this year's poster during the banquet.

Franklin, who cared for three younger brothers and provided for their college education, is a 1993 graduate of Craigmont High School. She is director of music and fine arts at Golden Gate Cathedral.

"I believe Glynn appreciates what I have been involved with as an entrepreneur and minister," said Franklin. "I have worked with young people for a number of years. I began a homeless feeding and clothing ministry two years ago."

And she clearly is ready to build on Juneteenth.

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