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Savannah Juneteenth Festival brings together live music, history, hometown heroes

  • Savannah’s own Globetrotter Larry “Gator” Rivers helps Kiana Jackson twirl a basketball during a past Juneteenth Festival. (Savannah Morning News file photo)
  • A dance troupe performs a traditional African dance during a past Juneteenth Festival. (Savannah Morning News file photo)
  • Torion Sellers is one of a number of performers set for Savannah’s 2017 Juneteenth Festival.
 

Savannah Juneteenth Festival brings together live music, history, hometown heroes

12 Jun 2017

It’s a time to remember the past and to celebrate the future.

The Juneteenth Festival is presented annually by the Daughters of Mary Magdalene to both commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth, an important date in American history. This year’s festival will be June 18 at 38th Street Park.

Marilyn Jackson, president of the Daughters of Mary Magdalene, will present a program she calls “Juneteenth 101” to educate the public about the holiday’s history.

“We always have our griots,” Jackson says. “I’m going to be one of the griots this year to tell the history of Juneteenth.”

Juneteenth celebrates the day all slaves learned they were free. Although President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, slaves in Texas and the western territories did not learn they were free until June 19, 1865 — more than two and a half years later.

“We’re going to have a very good time, but we’re going to party with a purpose,” Jackson says. “Juneteenth actually falls on June 19.

“That’s the day everybody is celebrating freedom from chattel slavery. Slavery in Africa was different from slavery in America. In other countries, slaves could buy their way out,” she says.

“In America, chattel slavery meant you were born a slave and died a slave. Those are the things we need to talk about it, if we ever sit down and talk about it.”

Slavery caused untold misery and grief.

“Nobody put a human side on enslaved people, nobody showed they fell in love, too,” Jackson says. “We’re doing a sketch about a woman who was sold away from the man she loved. How did our people feel working all day and night without getting the chance to marry?”

In Savannah, Juneteenth is also about having fun.

“We’re going to have so much,” Jackson says. “The entertainment is truly outstanding.

“We have a young brother coming from Atlanta who is a writer, producer and artist named Torion Sellers,” she says. “He’s for the young people.”

He was discovered after signing to the record label Young Money. His first single, “Twerk Don’t Hurt” featuring Cash Out, was a hit.

Other entertainment will include Atlanta rapper K7, Abeni African Dance Group, ILA Gospel Ensemble, the Southern Bones, the Gospel Tones and Pocket Change. There also will be free food, a bounce house and more.

Every year, the Daughters of Mary Magdalene honor those who have most helped the community. This year’s honorees are former school board member Jesse Collier DeLoach; author and activist Pamela Oglesby; humanitarian Beverly Santos; musician James Cole, the first black piano tuner in Savannah; the Rev. Lexie Aikens, pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church; the Rev. Richard Hall, pastor of Second Arnold Baptist Church; radio and television personality Chester Dunham; writer, producer and performer Katoria Mitchell; and Allen Mainor, community activist and NAACP member.

In addition, Carolyn Jordan, great-granddaughter of Richard Wright, one of the early presidents of Savannah State University, will speak.

Although there is no admission charge, organizers are asking for donations of books that will be donated to local centers for summer reading programs.

At 19, Torion Sellers, who goes by Torion, is a singing, dancing, songwriting whirlwind. After starting music and dance lessons at age 9, he signed his first record deal when he was just 14.

Torion has shared the stage with Rae Sremmurd, Tyga, Diggy Simmons, Silento, Jacob Latimore, Luke James and many more.

As a songwriter, Torion wrote Trevor Jackson’s debut single “Drop It,” featuring B.O.B., which had a successful radio run.

As an actor, Torion appeared in the film “Barbershop 3: The Next Cut” with Ice Cube, Nicki Minaj, Cedric the Entertainer, Anthony Anderson, Common, Eve and more.

“It was awesome to be on the set,” he says. “They taught me a lot. It was definitely a good experience.

“Nobody said, ‘We can’t hang around him, he’s a new kid,’” Torion says. “They let me hang around with them and taught me so much.”

But for now, music is still No. 1.

“I’ve been doing music since the age of 9,” Torion says. “I started taking it seriously at the age of 13.

“At the time, my father had a jazz band and we’d go around and I’d perform. He’d let me come out on stage.

“I wasn’t old enough to get in some places, but he had the determination, so he brought me out,” Torion says. “Ever since then, I’ve fallen in love with it and it became my passion.”

Torion finds inspiration from artists such as Chris Brown and Usher.

“I listen to other people’s music,” he says. “I might see something that catches my attention — a breakout that inspires me to go out and make more music.”

As a performer, Torion’s biggest highlight was getting signed by Lil Wayne.

“That’s a moment I’ll never forget,” Torion says. “We did this big viral video that got hundreds of thousands of views.”

In Savannah, Torion will present a variety of his work.

“I’m going to perform at a Boys & Girls Club in Savannah while I’m there. I’m excited about performing at Juneteenth.

“I love what I do,” Torion says. “It’s something I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

IF YOU GO

What: The Juneteenth Festival

When: 11 a.m. June 17

Where: 38th Street Park

Cost: Free; book donations welcome

Info: 912-412-4851 or 912-428-3335

MORE JUNETEENTH EVENTS

• Pin Point Heritage Museum, 9924 Pin Point Ave., will celebrate Juneteenth from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 17.

Historical interpreters will be on-site to educate guests about the abolition of slavery in 1865 and the lasting impact the decision had on the region, as well as the rest of the country. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children younger than 12 and free for members of the Coastal Heritage Society. Learn more at chsgeorgia.org/phm.

• Juneteenth on Tybee Island will be celebrated at 3 p.m. June 17 with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, storytelling about the protest wade-ins in the 1960s, singing of freedom songs and a hand-in-hand wade-in.

The event will start at North Beach Grill, 33 Meddin Drive, where participants will walk to the water’s edge. In case of rain, the event will be June 18. For information, email tybeemlk@gmail.com.

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