Since the 1980s, Rhode Islanders have organized celebrations of Emancipation Day, or Juneteenth. Here’s how organizer Helen Baskerville-Dukes describes last year’s event:

“Pride. Empowerment. Feeling good about our accomplishments, even through slavery and after slavery. Our heritage, culture. I believe culture is essential for everyone.  So this just really defines and makes us proud of who we are as a people,” Baskerville-Dukes said.

Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It dates back to 1865 in Galveston, Texas, where, the story goes, the last enslaved people found out about the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Though the holiday fell out of favor in the early 1900s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s reignited the celebration in Black communities around the United States. It’s not an official holiday in Rhode Island, but every summer, large crowds gather to celebrate the day. Last year, Baskerville-Dukes and the Juneteenth RI committee organized a celebration in Roger Williams Park that attracted over a thousand people with live music and dozens of local Black vendors.

This year, the coronavirus has made that impossible to replicate. Instead, Baskerville-Dukes and her team will set up shop outside of Musicfeen studios on Richmond Street in Providence.

“From 5:00 to 9:00 pm, we're going to have voter registration. We're going to be selling Juneteenth 2020 quarantine edition t-shirts outside,” explained Baskerville-Dukes. “And just being able to talk to people who come through and want to know more about Juneteenth from any walk of life.”

Inside the recording studio, there will be a two-hour celebration, complete with DJ sets, pre-recorded musical performances, and a keynote speaker, all accessible via Facebook Live.

“This is actually my first work back since quarantine,” said Vincent Dennis-Lopes, aka Bad Lad, who will be the host of the evening. “And it’s this virtual medium, so it's gonna be interesting.”

This year, Juneteenth comes after weeks of civil unrest and a global spotlight on racism and Black communities in the U.S. Dennis-Lopes sees this timing as an opportunity to reach people who might be avoiding conversations on race and policing.

“It seems that right now is the best time for information to be shared and discussions to be had,” Dennis-Lopes said. “I think also what Juneteenth gives us is a safe place for folks who are ignorant to those things. And I don't mean ignorant in a malicious way. I just mean in the general sense of not knowing. It allows those people a safe place, to have the dialogue, to gather information, and hopefully come out on the other side of it more aware.”

Despite the absence of physical vendors, the virtual celebration will encourage supporting Black-owned businesses, like Musicfeen studios. 

“I think that is at the crux of it all,” Dennis-Lopes continued. “I think that the initial benefit that [supporting Black-owned businesses] brings is empowerment. And we're at a time where we need it. We need to be reassured of our empowerment.”

A few blocks away from Musicfeen studios, a youth-led protest is planned for the evening of Juneteenth. The goal of both events is the same: empower and invest in Black communities.