Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NMSU and jazz arts festival recognize Juneteenth

LAS CRUCES – This year’s Juneteenth festivities 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 Corbett Center Student Union, students and community members gathered for an evening of music, poetry, 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 in the wake of several Black citizens being killed by police and the social justice movements that followed.

NMSU themed this year’s Juneteenth celebration “Remember a Legacy to Continue the Journey.” It’s the university’s third event recognizing the holiday.

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

“There’s a legacy that we have to continue to remember and be motivated and inspired by in order for us to continue moving forward,” Turner said. “But there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

More:NMSU initiative seeks to support men of color

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

“When we talk about diversity and equity inclusion, it’s not a Black issue. It’s not a Hispanic issue, it’s not a Native problem: it’s something that you care about: human rights,” he said.

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

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

Collins said his family arrived to Galveston — an island city southeast of Houston — after the end of the American Civil War. For generations, his family has been involved in Galveston’s celebrations of June 19.

“The country has to be reminded and we as a nation have a really short memory,” Collins said.

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

NMSU’s program also included a Wontananda West African drum and dance by performers N’Faly Drame, Deollo Johnson and Fred Simpson. The group invited attendees to join on stage to learn the traditional African dances.

Drame, Johnson, and Simpson taught a West African dance course at NMSU last year.

The event continued with more live music and a poetry reading before a summer conclusion — a vigil and moment of silence for the people of color who’ve lost their lives due to discrimination in the United States, including George Floyd and the victims from the Buffalo supermarket mass shooting 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 NMSU's Juneteenth celebration at the Corbett Center Student Union outdoor stage on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Jazz arts festival

Separate from the NMSU event, Las Cruces is host to the second New Mexico Juneteenth Jazz Arts Festival, featuring several events, held virtually and in person.

One of those events was a jazz improvisation workshop held Friday afternoon in the Doña Ana Arts Council building. Festival organizer and New Mexico Music Commissioner Derrick Lee, along with fellow jazz musicians, performed for guests while teaching them about jazz music.

This year’s jazz festival, which combined seminars on Juneteenth history with jazz education and concerts, is the first one held in person.

“I just really want to contribute to the community and raise 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 at Plaza de Las Cruces all afternoon followed by a concert inside the Rio Grande Theater downtown.

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

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

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