The CLTV’s Juneteenth gala was an oasis, expertly crafted for anyone who has ever needed a safe space to be unapologetically Black without repercussion and unburdened by appropriation, violence or restraint. Code-switching and double-consciousness were checked at the door.
Themed 'On the Shoulders of Giants,' each element of the evening from the entertainment to food to décor paid homage to Black culture, creativity and survival.
Victoria Jones, founder of The CLTV, said she and other CLTV members hoped the gala would be “a courageous space for folks to come as their boldest, Blackest selves" and an opportunity to “define, redefine and experiment with what that even means.”
It’s been 400 years since the first African slaves arrived in America, 156 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and 153 years since Union soldiers marched into Texas, the last slaveholding state, to enforce that proclamation. They reached Galveston on June 19, 1865. It was the first Juneteenth,
and the freedmen danced in the streets.
It’s been nine years since Jones had an epiphany
while attending Tennessee State University that she needed to create a space for Black artist to showcase their work. Five months ago that dream took shape when The CMPLX opened shop at 2234 Lamar Avenue in Orange Mound,
the first planned community built for and by African-Americans in the South post-Civil War.
Related: "The CMPLX opens to packed house in Orange Mound"
Jones said her great-great grandfather was a freed slave and she was inspired to organized The CLTV's first Juneteenth gala to celebrate his perseverance.
“I wanted to commemorate the sorrow, pain and trauma that lives within that. I wanted to tap on my ancestors to guide me in the work that is still to come,” she said.
Guests dined at elegantly adorned tables at the Juneteenth gala help at The CMPLX. (Erica Horton)
The Work Still to Come
Jones said Juneteenth is something she did not begin celebrating until she was in her 20s. She believes she is not the only one who has had a disconnect with the holiday.
“We didn’t learn about it in school. [With] every other holiday we learned about its origins, the reasons why it’s still important, but that never applied to Juneteenth. We celebrate so many holidays that, in their inception, did not even include Black folks. My hope is that we begin to celebrate this one in all of its glory,” she said.
During her keynote speech, Jones discussed how waking up black every day is not easy.
Search “Living while black”
on Google and stories of black people being arrested, harassed or killed while doing everyday things — shopping while pregnant, owning a business, going to Starbucks
— pop up.
“You wake up, you go through social media, you do this and that and it’s a very different experience in our skin because you see someone has been murdered," said Jones. "You see all of the hateful comments and then you get to wherever you’re working and you carry all of that with you."
at the gala
“From jazz to hip hop, from James Baldwin to Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage to Basquiat to Kehinde Wiley — this country owes Black people its identity," said Rachel Knox, The CLTV's board chair, as she welcomed guests into the main room.
The crowd applauded as the eloquence and diversity of Black culture radiated from the tops of their afro’ed, pressed, braided and shaved heads to the bottoms of their polished shoes.
Live performances of dance, songs, and poems by local artists Cameron Bethany, Auntrion Bradford, NuJas and Magnolia kept the crowd cheering. Conversations flowed above the sounds of a curated playlist with renown Black artists like Lauryn Hill, Moses, Daniel Ceasar and Erykah Badu.
The CLTV marketed the event with a video
and Pinterest board
to set the tone and inspire attire. Guests showed up adorned in colorful headwraps and jewelry and boldly patterned suits, skirts, pants, dresses and jackets. There were veils, scarves, furs, gold, waist beads, crowns, grillz, scepters and staffs. Some guests got outfits and styling tips from local African fashion stores
around the city.
Related: "African Kingdom brings West African style to University District"
“We wanted to use this gala as a chance to encourage our community to celebrate the style, grace and flavor our ancestors passed down to us through generations of perseverance and culture,” said Jones.
Guests of The CLTV's 2019 Juneteenth gala were treated to dance, song and spoken word performances by local artists Cameron Bethany, Auntrion Bradford, NuJas and Magnolia. (Erica Horton)
The dining room walls were draped in billowing white cloth. Long tables draped in white lined the walls and were topped with green-leaf place mats, gold cutlery, elegant centerpieces and candles.
Local Chef Fran Mosley, owner of Haute Monde Sweet and Savory Catering, prepared dinner which include a cucumber and tomato salad to start and a main course of baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, sautéed cabbage and rolls served on round, wood plates. Guests enjoyed peach cobbler for dessert.
Mosley said she wanted a theme for the meal and thought of foods her grandmother made when she was a child.
“I enjoyed having the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth by cooking foods that are staples of Black, Southern tables,” she said. “I was excited to partner with this group, that specifically asked for something with flavor. Food is exciting for me and it has been fun working with The CLTV.”
The gala had several sponsors — We Are Memphis, Hyde Family Foundation and First Tennessee — but Jones said it is important for The CLTV’s work to be funded primarily by Black dollars.
Tickets for the Juneteenth celebration were $220 for the full dinner and gala or $35 for the after-party, and the money raised will fund exhibitions and residency programs for local Black artists.
“We believe that Black artists are some of the most thoughtful, intelligent and innovative change agents in the city," said Jones. "The CLTV's work is based on giving those change agents a voice and platform to do good work in Black communities."
She said acquiring grant funding is tough and hopes the event was also an opportunity to encourage emerging Black philanthropists whose dollars would go back to into the Black creatives and communities The CLTV strives to serve.
“We are a majority Black city. If we can create space for our work to be funded by Black dollars, we no longer have to answer to white folks as we decide how to build our communities. It keeps us more authentic in our work,” she said.
The CLTV’s next event Fiber: An Exploration of Freedom is Sunday, June 30 from 4-7 p.m. From the organizers: “Fiber: An Exploration of Freedom” addresses the trials, triumphs and experiences of the black woman’s narrative as it pertains to the freedoms that we are afforded and the capacity in which we persevere and act upon it.
Learn more about The CLTV at thecltv.org.