NMSU and Jazz Arts Festival recognize Juneteenth

LAS CRUCES — The June 19 festivities of this year kicked off Tuesday with a week-long jazz arts festival and were accompanied by New Mexico State University’s celebration of the new holiday on Friday.

On the stage outside the Corbett Center Student Union, students and community members gathered for an evening of music, poetry, guest speakers and more.

Juneteenth commemorates news of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States reaching Galveston, Texas in the 19th century. It became an official federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed legislation following the deaths of several black citizens by police and subsequent social justice movements.

NMSU’s theme for this year’s June 19th celebration is “Remember a Legacy to Continue the Journey”. This is the university’s third event recognizing the holiday.

Patrick Turner, associate provost for student success at NMSU and one of the main event coordinators, said students felt passionate about this year’s theme.

“There’s a legacy that we need to continue to remember and be motivated and inspired so that we can keep moving forward,” Turner said. “But there is still a lot of work to do.”

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Turner said he hoped the event at NMSU would create a fun environment and bring people together despite having different backgrounds and walks of life.

“When we talk about diversity and equity, it’s not a black issue. It’s not a Hispanic issue, it’s not an Indigenous issue: it’s something you care about: human rights,” he said.

Friday’s celebration included guest speakers such as NMSU General Counsel Roy Collins III, a native of Galveston, Texas. Collins prepared a little history lesson on Juneteenth to educate the community.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which mandated the freeing of slaves on January 1, 1863. News of this edict reached Galveston in mid-June 1865.

Collins said her family arrived in Galveston – an island city southeast of Houston – after the end of the American Civil War. For generations, his family has participated in June 19 celebrations in Galveston.

“The country needs to be reminded and we as a nation have very short memories, Collins said.

Community members dance during NMSU's June 19 celebration on the outdoor stage at the Corbett Center Student Union on Friday, June 17, 2022.

NMSU’s program also featured West African Wontananda drumming and dancing by performers N’Faly Drame, Deollo Johnson and Fred Simpson. The group invited participants to join the stage to learn traditional African dances.

Drama, Johnson and Simpson last year taught a West African dance class at NMSU.

The event continued with more live music and a poetry reading before a somber conclusion – a vigil and a moment of silence for people of color who have lost their lives to discrimination in the United States, including including George Floyd and the victims of the Buffalo mass shooting at a supermarket on May 14. Organizers and attendees chanted “Black and Brown Lives Matter” after each name.

Community members hold up fake candles to honor black and brown people who were killed by police during the NMSU's June 19 observance on the outdoor Student Union stage at the Corbett Center on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Jazz Arts Festival

Independent of the NMSU event, Las Cruces hosts New Mexico’s second Juneteenth Jazz Arts Festival, with several events, held virtually and in person.

One such event was a jazz improvisation workshop held on Friday afternoon at the Doña Ana Arts Council building. Festival organizer and New Mexico Music Commissioner Derrick Lee, along with other jazz musicians, performed for guests while teaching them about jazz music.

This year’s jazz festival, which combined June 19 history seminars with jazz education and concerts, is the first to be held in person.

“I really want to contribute to the community and spread awareness about Juneteenth,” Lee said.

Audience Member Rick Haffey and New Mexico Music Commissioner Derrick Lee discuss jazz and musical improvisation during a jazz improvisation workshop - part of the New Mexico Juneteenth Jazz Arts Festival - at the Doña Ana Arts Council on Friday, June 17, 2022.

The Jazz Festival continues through Sunday, June 19, with free shows in Plaza de Las Cruces all afternoon, followed by a concert downtown at the Rio Grande Theater.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9:55 a.m. June 20, 2022, to note the correct year President Joe Biden signed the June 19 National Independence Day Act.

Annya Loya can be contacted at [email protected] or @annyaloya on Twitter.

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