A recently leaked flyer of a since-canceled Little Rock Juneteenth event sounded the alarm for local community organizations and opened discussion about poorly-consulted cultural events.
The event organizer Muskie Harris, a Black former Razorback football player, said he’s since cancelled the event due to outrage from the community. The event was scheduled to be a Juneteenth Soul Food Festival and Market with “3 Floors of Food” and surprisingly hosted by three white speakers. The proceeds were to benefit organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, 100 Black Men and the Urban League of America.
The event flyer elicited some strong responses from Black Arkansans across social media on Tuesday, April 26, which is approximately when it started circulating online.
“I got a rope around my neck and I’m tarred and feathered over an event that’s already dead,” Harris said in a quote featured on Arkansas Times in response to the backlash — another perceived gaffe and unfortunate historical reference to lynch mobs.
Juneteenth recently was made a federal holiday in 2021 by President Joe Biden. The holiday marks the first day of freedom of enslaved people in Texas, which was the late state to abolish slavery after the Civil War.
This failed Juneteenth event is a prime example of how culturally targeted events such as festivals, panels, workshops, job fairs and public service announcements often miss the mark by not having more Black or Latino representation from the planning stage to promotion and production.
Top reasons the event planners got this one wrong:
1 | If you’re going to use red, white and blue to advertise Juneteenth, include the holiday’s official flag for context.
This begs the question of who this flyer and subsequent event was really intended to reach. Juneteenth is an African-American holiday and cultural celebration. The colors that best represent this target audience for marketing and promotional purposes would also include some combination of Pan-African colors like red, black, green and yellow — not just red, white and blue. This is not the 4th of July.
2 | Make sure you have permission from the organizations that you’re trying to support before using their logos and likeness.
This goes for anybody. It’s a great lesson to be learned. Many organizations such as the NAACP, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and the Urban League have a legacy and history attached to their names that is not free to leverage for cool points.
Further, if you’re organizing an event for people of color or planning to honor such communities, make sure to consult with a respected, local Black or Brown advisor or supporting organization that can provide insight on cultural respect and honest feedback. Cultural respect can be defined as the recognition, protection and continued advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and traditions of a particular culture.
We thank you for thinking about Black and minority-led / serving organizations in your fundraising efforts this holiday season, but the saying “Nothing about us without us” exists for this very reason. Now things are awkward.
3 | It’s insulting to imply “Soul Food” would be the call to action for people to support a cause on Juneteenth.
When paired with a panel of exclusively white media representatives, the outrage is understandable and underscores the inappropriate feel of it all. Cookouts, fish fries and dinner shows are common on this holiday but this flyer failed to speak with authentic voice. By the way, was nobody from NABJ available for this?
Our guess is they most likely were, but wonder if the event organizers even bothered to reach out to them. Likewise, we would like our colleagues in media to think before accepting speaking engagements such as this. Think about if your presence will bring true value to the event. Think of uplifting other voices to share the platform.