Iowa City Area Juneteenth kicked off Freedom Week with a Reclamation workshop

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LinkedIn: To Break Every Chain

SugaPeach (650 Pacha Pkwy, North Liberty) — Tuesday, June 19 at 5 p.m.

No More Motherless Children

Iowa City Public Library — Wednesday, June 20 at 6 p.m.

TrailBlazers Dinner

Radisson Hotel & Conference Center — Friday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m.; tickets $20-150

Juneteenth Celebration

Mercer Park — Saturday, June 23 at 12 p.m.

Detail from Iowa City Area Juneteenth 2018 poster.

Iowa City Area Juneteenth is pulling out all stops this year to honor the end of slavery in the United States. In keeping with trends across the country, the organization is celebrating Freedom Week for the first time, filling the week surrounding Juneteenth with community events above and beyond the yearly celebration. Tuesday, June 19, marks the 153rd anniversary of the day in 1865 when the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas, the last state where people learned that Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation three years earlier.

Around a dozen participants — all women, from a variety of racial backgrounds — gathered on the Englert stage for the first event of Freedom Week on Monday, I Know Why the Caged Bird Reads, led by author and educator Tameka Cage Conley. The event was the second iteration of the Reclamation workshop, which was conceived of by Conley and her friend and collaborator Derek Nnuro.

The program’s facilitator, Brooke Kimbrough, attended the first Reclamation workshop at the Englert in April, and in her introduction of Conley, she said, “It is an amazing experience to be a student under Tameka.” In the brief hour that the event ran, that statement proved true.

Conley guided the group through consideration of two complementary passages: one from Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved, the other from “The Headstrong Historian,” a story in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection The Thing Around Your Neck. She then teased themes out of each that everyone in attendance wrote brief reflections on and then discussed.

This is the core of the concept of a Reclamation workshop.

“African and African American writers have been writing together in conversation since time immemorial,” Conley said. She came to the idea for the workshops through pondering the question of whether ancestral memory might facilitate communication. Conley was inspired by conversations with Nnuro, who is Ghanian. Monday’s group, made up of both writers and avowed non-writers, opened up in communication with each other quickly, which was a testament to the power of the workshop format and to Conley’s nuanced and supportive style.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Reads, which ultimately dug into an exploration of freedom, was a perfect kick-off to Freedom Week, emphasizing ideas of unity and community support that underpin Juneteenth celebrations nationwide. The week continues with a networking event at Sugapeach in North Liberty (one of only a few area black-owned businesses) that runs 5-7:30 p.m. on June 19; a panel discussion at the Iowa City Public Library on the notion of “other mothering” (mothering and being mothered beyond the biological is a theme of the week), at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20; Sankofa Outreach’s third annual Trailblazers dinner, featuring speaker Kimberly Fitten, on Friday, June 22; and a celebratory party at Mercer Park, rain or shine, on Saturday, June 23. The Mercer Park event, which starts at noon, will offer a free community meal. Full details of all events are available on Iowa City Area Juneteenth’s website and Facebook page.

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