Sevyn Streeter to headline Rochester's Juneteenth Festival 

click to enlarge R&B singer-songwriter Sevyn Streeter is the headliner for the 2024 Rochester Juneteenth Festival on Saturday, June 15. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • R&B singer-songwriter Sevyn Streeter is the headliner for the 2024 Rochester Juneteenth Festival on Saturday, June 15.
The first Juneteenth celebration in Rochester — held to commemorate the emancipation of Black people from slavery in the United States — took place 30 years ago. This year's festival, presented by the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, takes place on Saturday, June 15 at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park and seeks to find a balance between reveling in historic victories and confronting current injustices.

Cherri Hawkins, a member of the MLK Jr. Commission for several years, organized the local Juneteenth festivities for the first time this year. She said the celebration is a way to preserve both the past and the future.

“Juneteenth (is) really significant to Rochester because the city played that vital role in the Underground Railroad, which provided the safe passage for the enslaved African Americans’ escape into freedom,” said Hawkins. “But celebrating Juneteenth also allows the descendants of those formerly enslaved people living in Rochester today to honor their ancestors and pursue liberty and human dignity.”

The theme for the current festival is “From 1964 to 2024: 60 Years in the Fight for Justice in Rochester,” which remembers the 1964 Rochester race riot, a visceral response to growing tensions surrounding severe economic inequity and civil rights violations. Many of these same issues — including racial disparities with regard to housing, unemployment, and poverty — continue today in cities around the nation, including here in Rochester.

“We definitely want to keep those aspects in mind, along with having that great celebration of emancipation and the festival, which reckons with Rochester’s complex legacy and it reaffirms the need for continued activism,” Hawkings said.

The festival proper begins with a 10 a.m. parade starting at the intersection of Chestnut and Broad Streets. An Elders’ Circle tribute takes place at 11 a.m. at the Strong National Museum of Play, where admission will be free in conjunction with the festival. The Juneteenth celebration continues through 8 p.m. and includes arts and crafts, vendors and African drumming.

The headlining act is R&B singer-songwriter Sevyn Streeter, whose most popular and enduring song is arguably “The Way,” which became pop star Ariana Grande’s first single and helped to catapult her career.

“You're crafting something, you know, specifically for someone to live with and live in for the rest of their lives,” said Streeter. “From now until the end of time, Ariana will be singing ‘The Way.’ It is a song that is attached to her legacy, so you kind of just feel a little bit like an architect, and I think that's kind of cool.”

While Juneteenth is an occasion for celebrating, dancing, and enjoying quality cuisine; Streeter pointed out it’s important to recognize the holiday’s true significance.

“It’s the day that we found out that we really were free,” she said. “I just want to come and spread joy.”

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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