It started with one tweet.
Two weeks later, We Out Here: a (virtual) Juneteenth celebration highlighting Black excellence was born. It comes in the midst of rising tensions stemming from racial injustice and police brutality following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. With the heaviness around these deaths, and many others before and after them, creatives and businesses have banned together to create resources, call out influencers and institutions that don’t value Black lives, and promote events such as Juneteenth, that actually celebrate Black culture versus ignores it.
The significance of Juneteeth, celebrated on the 19th of June, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
When Kayla Simone put the idea for a virtual Juneteenth celebration into the atmosphere. she couldn’t have imagined she would receive so much support in turning that idea into a reality.
“I absolutely did not expect for anyone to pay me any attention when I tweeted that,” she laughed. “Mostly because everyone will tell you that I just be tweeting. Whatever comes to my mind, I’m just going to say it.”
But when the responses came around, Kayla says it was definitely exciting to see, but also overwhelming.
Each response was another reality check that this event was indeed happening. And with the amount of holidays that revolve around Black people being so few, and hardly celebrated on a national scale, creating an event around Juneteenth would showcase the importance of the holiday itself.
“I think [Juneteenth] is something we should celebrate.I think over the years, it’s definitely gotten more interest and more people have been excited about it.”
However, celebrating holidays looks a bit different this year as the rise of COVID-19 cases nationwide has caused many businesses to shut down and many community members to be on high alert for their health and safety. But even in the midst of a pandemic, Kayla sees this event as a way to bring joy, hope and fellowship into people’s homes so that celebrations can commence without a hitch.
“With all of the most recent Black Lives Matter protests and movements in general, I think that it’s become more exceedingly important that we celebrate us even though it doesn’t feel like we’re being celebrated,” Kayla says. “We have been seeing death and pain and hurt, and all of these other core emotions. And we’ve all had to experience this pain and hurt. We needed something for joy, for us, and I felt like it was something I was sort of charged to do.”
But Kayla makes it a point to show that this event could not have been pulled off alone. Between her friends coming together, and perfect strangers reaching out to help where they can, Kayla says it’s an important part of what Juneteenth is all about.
“Half of the people who are participating as hosts have never met me. That is literally how we have half of our line up. This wouldn’t have been able to come together without community.”
Collectively, this virtual celebration tackles the important issues across the nation, while also adding important elements of fun participation. It was important to Kayla that audience members can truly feel like they are there experiencing every part of what this celebration has to offer.
“It’s always about food and fellowship. Those are super important to the community, and they have been not only to our immediate generation but also our parents and our grandparents,” Kayla says. She also says starting the day off with positivity through intention setting is something she wanted to include to kick off the day. Another important addition to the lineup includes the viewing of “Miss Juneteenth,” a Sundance premiere film about the Miss Juneteenth pageants, which were important to different communities in getting young women scholarships to go to college.
Each event host has a Black owned business and brand, and plays a huge role in the progression and storytelling of Black culture via art, education, fellowship and therapy. Throughout the morning, participants are getting aligned mentally and physically with a moment of silence and morning affirmations with Teyonna Ridgeway, a yoga session with Yasmine Griffiths, a poetry reading by Francine Tamakloe, prayers and a reading by Brittany Martin and a nice workout by Ace Clark. To close out the evening, participants can create a lavish meal with cocktail pairings taught by Chef Brandon Sullivan and Ashley Lampkin. Then the second workout begins with a live set from DJ Scrib to end the celebration.
When It’s all said and done, Kayla says she hopes people (virtually) walk away from the event feeling loved.
“I hope people walk away feeling that their contributions, no matter what that is, [are] appreciated, Kayla says. “We have people from so many different walks of life, fields and professions who are just going to spend the day with us. And every single person is going to bring something amazing to this event just by doing what they do best. I want everyone to take that with them and knowing and understanding that whatever it is that you bring to the table is appreciated and necessary.”
“We Out Here” kicks off at 9:30 a.m. on June 19th. For more information on all events and hosts involved, be sure to visit weouthere.wixsite.com/juneteenth.