Amherst to host Juneteenth celebrations this weekend 

  • WOFA Director Alpha Kabisko Kaba leads a spirited performance with the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts School’s African Dance and Drum Company during a Community Jubilee in honor of Juneteenth last year at the town center in Amherst. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/14/2022 7:03:13 PM

AMHERST — An interactive walk featuring historic sites of Amherst’s first Black and Indigenous families is one element of a Juneteenth celebration Saturday that will also mark the launch of a new nonprofit foundation aiming to build a more equitable future.

Saturday’s Juneteenth events, which are separate from a Juneteenth Jubilee starting at noon on Sunday on the Town Common, are being put on, in part, by Ancestral Bridges, which was created by Anika Lopes, an Amherst town councilor and milliner who is serving as the foundation’s president. The foundation is looking to elevate economic and cultural opportunities for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities in the region.

Lopes said the foundation, which takes its name from her maternal ancestors and her late grandfather Dudley Bridges, is about empowering BIPOC community members who have been systemically denied wealth generation opportunities, such as home and land ownership, college scholarships and financial investments.

“As a direct result of lacking generational wealth, BIPOC youth today are often disadvantaged in school, getting into college, starting businesses and owning property,” Lopes said. “We’re going to evolve the future potential of BIPOC in the Amherst area.”

Events on Saturday start at 11 a.m. at West Cemetery, located between Triangle and North Pleasant streets at the northern end of downtown, where the foundation will be announced. There, participants will honor the lives and contributions of the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the famed 5th Cavalry, some of whose members are buried there. Those were among soldiers who alerted Texas residents that the Civil War and slavery had ended, and is the historical event that serves as the origin of Juneteenth.

Then, people will head to the Emily Dickinson Museum on Main Street at noon and the Amherst History Museum on Amity Street at 1 p.m., where a collection of Indigenous tools and arrowheads will be on display.

The centerpiece of the day, in partnership with the Amherst Historical Society and Museum and local organizations and descendants of Black families, is the Juneteenth Heritage Walking Tour. The tour will feature Black neighborhood landmarks on a 1.5-mile journey that will give people the chance to immerse themselves in the day- to-day experiences of Black Amherst residents from 200 years ago to more modern times.

“With this walking tour, we are pulling back the curtain, highlighting the way that my family and other Black and Indigenous historic residents of Amherst lived and worked, what they hoped and fought for, so that Black youth and others can understand this part of our history and use it to grow,” Lopes said.

Neighborhoods featured on the tour include the Westside District, with homes on Hazel Avenue, Baker Street, Snell Street and Northampton Road, designated a National Historic District in 2000 due to the efforts of Bridges, and the neighborhood of McClellan, Beston and Paige Streets. Hope Church and Goodwin Church will be part of the tour, too.

Also featured on the walking tour will be a special art installation by local artist Shirley Jackson Whitaker that will highlight the Tote2Vote campaign, launched recently to raise awareness of voter suppression.

The day concludes with a 5 p.m. concert at the Drake performance venue on North Pleasant Street.

Those with limited mobility should meet at 10:30 a.m. at the high school parking lot.

For the foundation, in addition to cultural events and exhibits like on Juneteenth, Lopes sees internship opportunities, wealth generation education and first-time home-ownership initiatives.

The foundation’s board includes William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, professor Kamal Ali, attorney Michael Pill, Police Capt. Gabriel Ting, Amherst High School Principal Talib Sadiq, education reformer Sucharitha Cintron and Jackson Whitaker. Former state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Donald Brown will join in an advisory capacity.

Lopes is collaborating with Cinda Jones, president of W.D. Cowls, whose family was among colonial settlers of Hatfield and Amherst, and will be the vice president of the foundation.

“We’re working together to assure that Indigenous culture is reclaimed, family stories are told, and economic and home ownership opportunities are created for area BIPOC,” Jones said in a statement.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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