Akayaa Atule will perform at the Berkeley Black History Celebration. Photo: Elizabeth Heath
Akayaa Atule will perform at the Berkeley Black History Celebration. Photo: Elizabeth Heath

The organizers who have been putting on Berkeley’s Juneteenth celebration for the last 27 years are expanding and will produce the first annual Berkeley Black History Celebration at a seven-hour free event on Saturday.

The theme of the Feb. 8 celebration is “Harambee: Community Pulling Together,” and will feature everything from music, historical exhibits, a short film, good food, games, and an award ceremony, according to Gerald Baptiste, Jr, the chair of the event. 


“This event is not your ordinary festival,” the organizing group wrote in its promotional material. “Besides the great music, there will be a cultural side created by the Berkeley Juneteenth Committee with historical presentations, spoken word, and dance by Akayaa Atule and other surprises. There will be food, and there will be vendors and face painting. The music will be excellent, with Afro beats & original tunes from the world renowned Zulu Spear, fantastic Funk and original tunes from AfroFunk Experience, and R&B-Hip Hop from Kev Choice.”

The filmmaker Doug Harris will show a 10-minute clip from his film-in-progress about William Byron Rumford, the Berkeley state assemblyman who was instrumental in passing fair housing and fair employment legislation. Rumford, who died in 1986, was one of the state’s first African-American assemblymen.

The family-friendly celebration will take place at the Berkeley Community Theater, 1930 Allston Way, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will be free, in part because the city of Berkeley and the Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union have donated funds. Berkeleyside is a media sponsor for the event. Other sponsors include the Berkeley Unified School District, the NAACP, KPOO-FM, Berkeley High School’s African-American Studies Department, and Parents of Children of African Descent.

Ron Wesley of Alotoffun Productions, which puts on numerous free music festivals, worked with the Juneteenth Committee to craft the program and entertainment for the day. He has booked Zulu Spear, AfroFunk Experience, Kev Choice, and Akayaa Atule.

The highlight of the day may be the awards ceremony, which will take place in the afternoon, according to Delores Cooper, the executive secretary of Berkeley Juneteenth.

At first the committee thought about handing out awards to some of Berkeley’s iconic civil rights leaders, like Frances Albrier, who organized to push BUSD to hire its first African-American teacher and was the first African-American to run for the Berkeley City Council in 1939. Then the group decided to honor people who are active today. They are not announcing the two winners ahead of time; they want it to be a surprise.

“We looked for someone who is very active and is doing some civil rights-type thing right now,” said Cooper. “We are only going to do two (awards.) We don’t want to do too many because we want to make them special.”

For more information, check out the Berkeley Black History Celebration’s Facebook page or website.

Juneteenth’s 25th anniversary a great day out in Berkeley (06.25.12)

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...