Jennifer Steverson, Public Programs Curator at the Weeksville Heritage Center, and this year, Weeksville’s July 5th Celebration coordinator, would like to invite all to join together this Saturday to commemorate the emancipation of African Americans in New York State.

This event will take place at the Weeksville Heritage Center located in Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn with festivities beginning at 5pm and wrapping up around 8pm.

The Weeksville Heritage Center, formerly known as the Weeksville Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant, was officially erected in 2005 to preserve the historic Hunterfly Road Houses, the last surviving residence of Weeksville, and the significant history they represent.

Weeksville, as Steverson summarizes, “was founded in 1838 as a free African American Community and it was founded eleven years after the official end of enslavement in New York State.” This community not only represents the African American contributions made to the development of Brooklyn, but also is an example of 19th century African American presence in the North.

The enslavement of African Americans in the New York State actually ended on July 4, 1827, but, as Steverson explains, “because there were so many threats of violence against African American, people were really discouraged in strong ways from coming outside to celebrate.” Steverson continues saying that on the 4th, African Americans chose to celebrate inside, and waited until the 5th to celebrate outside, “so July 5th really became the day that they were able to claim as their own for celebrating their independence and their freedom.”

This celebration is meant to revive this holiday by providing the community with a space to recognize and acknowledge this event. Steverson also hopes that it will give people a chance “to reclaim the holiday and encourage people to take a more active part in defining independence for themselves.” She would like to see people reconnecting with their history, and “also be inspired to kind of reclaim independence in their own way.”

Steverson also hopes this event will work to build and tighten the bond between the center and the community. “I feel like we have a really close connection with community elders who have seen the evolution of the historic site,” says Steverson, who also points out that they work very closely with the children in the community through a lot of collaboration with school PS-243. While she agrees they do have key connections within the community, she acknowledges that they must continue to expand their community. “I think that there’s still a lot of work that we are trying to do to reach more people within the community, especially young adults.”

Steverson and the rest of the staff at Weeksville have worked hard to develop a program for this event that will appeal to all generational levels within the community. Their unique approach will work “to make a very real connection between the history [of the holiday and Weeksville], and what’s going on today,” describes Steverson. “We’re trying to look at this, the idea of independence and freedom, in a lot of different ways and connect it to struggles that are going on today.”

To accomplish this, Steverson has chosen to divide the program into two parts. The event will open with a historical presentation in the form of a lecture by scholar Dr. Sherrill D. Wilson. Wilson, an Urban Anthropologist, has focused her studies on the African presence in northern colonial era cities. She is an experienced and knowledgeable speaker, lecturing at both national and international organizations and institutions such as the Smithsonian Institute, Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History and the NY National Monument African Burial Ground.

To complement this more educationally charged opening, Steverson has decided to make the remaining half of the program a free concert by local bands in hopes of drawing out a bit younger crowd. The main act will be a Brooklyn-based punk, punk-rock, hip-hop band named Game Rebellion. Steverson chose this band particularly because they are local and also because, “in their music they deal a lot with political struggles that are happening in African American communities and globally.”

Opening up for Game Rebellion is a band called Adventures of Isabel (A.O.I.), a band founded during the Willie Mae Rock Camp for girls. Steverson explains this organization is great as, “they basically provide mentors for [the girls], like other women who are musicians,” and explicates further that the girls are provided with instruction concerning all levels of the music industry, from the bottom up. “They learn how to play an instrument, they learn how to do marketing, they learn about how to be a roadie, you know, how to do behind the scenes stuff.”

Steverson also appreciates that the organization is known for addressing “issues relating to gender-equality and identity so they are really trying to encourage girls to be independent and strong.” She sees this as really fitting “in well with a lot of the things that we try and inspire in people at Weeksville,” and also through this event.

Steverson, a twenty-six year old California-native, was initially drawn to New York for college when she attended The New School and developed an interest in education. In 2005 she began her work at Weeksville where she began as a per diem educator leading public tours. For this position it was necessary to immerse herself in what she found to be “an uncommonly taught, but significant history.” Intrigued by this unique space where she could not only relay this important history, but was “also charged with interpreting the history in a way that’s really provocative and interesting,” she decided to stay and has been there ever since.

Ultimately, Steverson and the rest of the team at Weeksville hope to “get a lot of people who’ve been to Weeksville, and a lot of people who are coming to hear music and hopefully be able to connect with new people and also reconnect with people who maybe haven’t been to the site in a while.”