Connected \\ June 9, 2023

New Exhibition Incorporates Area Leaders to Celebrate Black Community, Identity and Power

Juneteenth is a day of remembrance and celebration that dates back to June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally heard news of their freedom two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. It’s the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Many more people have begun to explore its history and traditions since President Joe Biden made it a federal holiday in 2021.

As president and founder of North Shore Juneteenth Association, Nicole McClain spends a lot of time thinking about Juneteenth, planning its celebrations and educating people on its lessons. She’s been working on these goals since 2016, when her then 16-year-old son had a traumatizing encounter with local police. The incident galvanized her to share Black American culture across the North Shore.

“For me, Juneteenth starts that conversation about how we should be celebrating our history, and how we should be proud of what we've come through,” says McClain. “It became a way for me to show the love, pride and joy that I have in the Black community, to hopefully change hearts and minds around who we are as Black Americans and what we deserve.”

McClain is one of three local leaders PEM is partnering with during the run of the exhibition As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic. Drawn from Dr. Kenneth Montague’s Wedge Collection in Toronto, this compelling compilation of photographs from African diasporic culture looks at the myriad experiences of Black life through the lenses of community, identity and power. It opens the weekend of Juneteenth with a day of live music and other special events.

Visitors enjoy an art making activity in 2019 with North Shore Juneteenth Association. Photo by Mel Taing/PEM.

Visitors enjoy an art making activity in 2019 with North Shore Juneteenth Association. Photo by Mel Taing/PEM.

As the newly appointed councilor-at-large in the city of Lynn, McClain certainly represents the “community” component of this exhibition. “That sense of community is really a part of [Lynn],” she says. “I believe a lot of people aren't aware of how much Lynners come out and just care for each other. It's really a part of being a Lynner, caring for the community. This community has shaped me because of the diversity that I've experienced growing up. Being from this community has really afforded me a look into various cultures. That has shaped me to become the person that I am: Very welcoming. Very curious. Very willing to try new things.”

The North Shore Juneteenth Association is offering a thoughtful series of upcoming community events, including a partnership with the National Park Service for a traveling exhibit called Black Women of the Suffrage Movement with a reception at the Salem Visitor’s Center on June 8, followed by Juneteenth celebrations at Lynn Museum on June 17 and on the Cape Ann Museum Green on June 18. On July 3, Lynn’s Frederick Douglass Park will host reading of Douglass’ speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”

Each spring, McClain also leads the Black Excellence 5K at Wyoma Square in Lynn. The race route includes portraits of local Black leaders. “People need to see themselves. Basically, if you can see it, you can be it,” says McCLain. “Seeing yourself is important. Representation actually matters. ‘He's from where I'm from, he looks like I look.’ To me, that translates into ‘I can be successful,’ or ‘I can have an impact in this world as well.’”

The stories of these local leaders are intended to spark the imaginations of young people in the community. They include Lynn judge Ina Howard Hogan, lawyer Michael Satterwhite, Salem State University English professor Gwendolyn Rosemond and cello teacher and conductor Marshunda Smith from Beverly, among others. The North Shore Juneteenth Association also honors local Black leaders at an annual ceremony in February. Among this year’s honorees was Lynn native and longtime PEM employee Lev McClain (no relation), a member of the Black Excellence 5k board and Salem’s first Black council person.

Lebohang Kganye, Re shapa setepe sa lenyalo II, 2013, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). © Lebohang Kganye

Lebohang Kganye, Re shapa setepe sa lenyalo II, 2013, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). © Lebohang Kganye.

In As We Rise, Black subjects are depicted by Black photographers and presented as they wish to be seen. Organized by Aperture, the exhibition features more than 100 works by Black artists from Canada, the Caribbean, Great Britain, the United States and South America, as well as throughout the African continent. “This powerful collection brings together iconic photographs, rare images and new works from across continents and over decades,” says Stephanie Hueon Tung, PEM’s Byrne Family Curator of Photography. “It centers the familial and the familiar, celebrating distinctive expressions of individuality as well as the spirit of community.”

Xaviera Simmons, Denver, 2008, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy the artist and David Castillo

Xaviera Simmons, Denver, 2008, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy the artist and David Castillo.

What Dr. Kenneth Montague has done with this photography collection is a form of activism, says Nicole McClain. “Not often do you see Black people pictured having fun, or jumping rope or just being them,” she says. “It humanizes Black Americans.” As for the festive Juneteenth holiday, she views it as an annual opportunity for discussions about racial injustice. “Food, music, celebration – it always reels people in,’’ she says. “Then, you can educate them.”

All of these upcoming local events are free to attend, and registration is not required.

Black Women of the Suffrage Movement Exhibit Reception
Thursday, June 8 5-7 pm
Salem Armory Regional Visitor Center (2 New Liberty Street, Salem)
Celebrate this traveling exhibition curated by North Shore Juneteenth. Learn about the remarkable Black women who paved the way for Shirley Chisolm, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, Ayanna Pressley and many more, including local leaders such as Nicole McClain, North Shore Juneteenth founder and president.

June 17 | 11 am–5 pm
Lynn Museum (590 Washington St, Lynn)
North Shore Juneteenth Association, Inc., Lynn Museum/LynnArts and the Lynn Music Foundation are partnering for Lynn’s 2023 Juneteenth Festival. Enjoy music, live performances, family-friendly activities, local vendors and food for purchase at Frederick Douglass Park (Corner of Union and Exchange Streets) and the Lynn Museum/LynnArts Park (590 Washington Street).

As We Rise Opening Day Events
Saturday, June 17 | 10 am–5 pm
Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex St, Salem)
Join the PEM community for the opening celebration of this compelling exhibition and catch pop-up talks, live music and art making!

June 18 | 3 pm
Cape Ann Museum Green (13 Poplar St, Gloucester)
The third Gloucester Juneteenth Celebration is presented by the North Shore Juneteenth Association and CAM’s Community Engagement Committee Member, Toni Waldron. Learn about the Juneteenth holiday and its connection to Cape Ann history while celebrating Black history through music, dance and food.

Reading Frederick Douglass Together
July 3 | 11 am
Frederick Douglass Park (Next to 25 Exchange St, Lynn)
A community reading of Frederick Douglass' speech, "The Meaning of July Fourth For The Negro." This event will feature musical performance, dance performance, vendors and more!

As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic makes its U.S. debut at PEM, and is on view from June 17 through December 31, 2023. Look for in-gallery videos introducing you to our three community partners:

Nicole McClain is the newly-appointed councilor-at-large of Lynn, Massachusetts, and the president and founder of the North Shore Juneteenth Association, a Lynn-based nonprofit and group of community leaders. The association seeks to create awareness about the Juneteenth holiday, educate the broader community about positive aspects of Black American culture, and dismantle racism by using events and programming as a tool for change. The North Shore Juneteenth Association recently organized the sixth annual Black Excellence 5K in Lynn to highlight the positive contributions of Black people. Watch as McClain explains the significance of the event, in which more than 200 people ran by banners and signs highlighting the positive contributions of Black role models in our local community and greater society.

Zainab Sumu is an artist and designer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is also the creative director of Zainab Sumu Primitive Modern, a design studio specializing in limited edition textiles for home and fashion. Born in Sierra Leone, she studied in London and Paris before moving to Boston to study at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Many of her designs are inspired by the music, patterns and architecture of West Africa. Watch as she takes us through her studio and the creation of the Malick Sidibé x Zainab Sumu T-shirt collection, based on the work of the pioneering Malian photographer.

Greg Coles is a drum and dance instructor based in Salem, Massachusetts who builds community through the arts. Formally trained in ballet, jazz, modern, African and Latin dance, he teaches drum and dance at Studio FOLI and throughout the North Shore. Watch as Coles demonstrates the rhythms of the djembe, a drum originally from West Africa whose name roughly means “to gather in peace.” The rhythms and the stories that they tell help players connect with Black diasporic identity, encourage empowerment and form community.

TOP IMAGE: Dawit L. Petros, Hadenbes, 2005 from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy the artist/Bradley Ertaskiran.

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