GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Folks in Gloucester County are gearing up to make this year’s Juneteenth celebration a memorable one.

One sponsor is bringing in an international performing arts group and a Grammy-nominated recording artist for a weekend of festivities.

Promoter Ray Friend is hosting the festivities at the new Flat Iron Crossroads entertainment center in Gloucester.

In January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, declaring slaves as freed in the United States. Problem was, authorities in Texas didn’t tell the 250,000 slaves in the state until June of 1865.

Celebrations around the nation mark the occasion every June.

This year, June 19 falls on a Saturday. “In the afternoon we’ll be having a drumming and dancing workshop. And we’ve reached out to the boys and girls clubs and churches in the area and we found sponsors to pay for 25 kids to come to that,” said Friend. “We’ll wound up the evening on June 19th with Womba Africa giving a performance. Womba Africa is a group of several drummers and dancers who tour internationally. They even auditioned for America’s Got Talent two years ago.”

Friend says after the children finish the workshop, some of them will be asked to come up and perform with Womba Africa.

The keynote speaker on Saturday’s Juneteenth festivities is Dr. Katrina Brown, minister at Bethel
Baptist Church in the Gloucester/Mathews County area.

Friend says he and his non-profit organization are hosting the 2-day event because he believes the most wonderful gift African American people have given the world is music.

“When we have performances here, a lot of the times, the entire band is African American.”
Friend went on to say, disappointedly, “When I look out in the audience and I’m like
‘Well, where are my African American brothers? They’re not here.'”

Friend says he thinks segregation, the formerly legal method of separating white people
and minorities, is now self-imposed. He believes, “that will never change until we as individuals
make the choice to reach out and embrace everybody in our community, and make them
welcome. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. And that’s why we chose to do this
Juneteenth Celebration.”

On Sunday, the Juneteenth celebration at Flat Iron Crossroads concludes with a performance
by Grammy-nominated recording artist Amythyst Kiah.

If you’re headed to Flat Iron Crossroads from the Norfolk Area, be prepared for a drive. But Friend says it’ll be worth it.

Friend describes his indoor and outdoor stages. “It was a Texaco gas station in 1930 and then
people started showing up.”

This Master’s Degree software engineer and lover of music teamed up with a group of like-minded folks to convert the property into a place musicians like to play.

The Jason Cale trio and Drummer Jae Sinnett and his band are set to perform at Flat Iron Crossroads the weekend before Juneteenth.

“We hold 150 people inside and we hold 500 outside,” said Friend.

This is a ticketed event. And Flat Iron Crossroads is a 501C-3 non profit organization.

To find out more, click here.