Illinois Humanities Council Road Scholar
National Storytelling Festival Exchange Place
Gwendolyn Brooks Award Honoree
Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Recipient In Folk Arts
National Storytelling Center Teller in Residence: Storytelling Live!
Kennedy Center for the Arts
National Storytelling Festival Featured Teller
Hundreds march to celebrate Juneteeth at Freedom Walk
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2015 12:00 am
Raquel Masco had never marched in the annual Juneteenth Freedom Walk to celebrate the 1865 announcement that slavery had ended.
But on Thursday, with the fatal shooting of nine worshippers at a historic black South Carolina church fresh in her mind, she joined the hundreds making their way to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
“I just wanted to walk in unity with other people and not in fear,” she said. “It’s in the back of my mind, absolutely. But we can’t be afraid to lead our lives because other people are warped in their thinking.”
Despite the events of the night before, the two-mile walk from the Lincoln Recreation Center to the museum had an upbeat feel, thanks to the 165 Bryan and College Station kids waving flags, skipping and laughing.
“It is far,” said Cheletia Johnson, assistant supervisor at the Lincoln Recreation Center. “It’s important for them to understand the significance of freedom and the price people had to pay for them to have these liberties to walk in a community as one regardless of their race or their gender.”
While predominantly black, a variety of races marched together. TC Langford, who is white, said events like the South Carolina shooting were detrimental to everyone.
“Until we all learn how to treat each other as equals, we all lose as Americans,” she said.
The group from the Lincoln Recreation Center joined several hundred other kids in the museum for a presentation by storyteller Oba William King.
King pounded drums, recited poetry, told African stories and leapt around the stage with an infectious energy that soon had the audience swaying and shouting.
Halfway through the performance, the tone changed. King didn’t mention the shooting to the elementary-aged school children. He did tell them watching the news that morning made him sad.
In an unscripted moment, King began to recite the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, sometimes referred to as the Black American National Anthem.
“That song is from the 1890s,” King said after his show. “We’re still struggling with this kind of hatred, this kind of racism, this type of terrorism is still haunting us because of the colors of our skin.”
In the first two verses, King’s voice boomed. His pace quickened, then slowed, phrases rolling out like waves.
“Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of a new day begun.”
On the third verse, King took a knee at the edge of the stage. The poem had become a prayer.
“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far on the way,” he paused a little longer than the other times. When he began again, his voice was heavier.
“Thou who has by thy might, led us into the light, keep us forever in the path … may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land.”