Get into this ‘Freedom Forward: Juneteenth Special’ from theGrio!

OPINION: The special, commemorating the Black national holiday, features some of your favorite folks and some special performances.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

When I was asked to co-host theGrio’s “Freedom Forward: Juneteenth Special” with Natasha Alford, my only thought was “Sign me up!” For one, I know that any and everything we do here at theGrio will be top-notch, but also I knew that I was going to have the opportunity to be a part of a truly remarkable hour of storytelling and maybe even some shenanigans. 

I was not wrong. 

The guests on this year’s special range from Roy Wood Jr. to U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, who I had the chance to speak to about taking up the mantle of federally funded reparations — we can’t talk about freedom and liberation without talking about reparations for the wrongs that restricted that freedom and liberation — where I got to ask the question that I’m sure sits right at the very front of everybody’s heart and mind: “When am I going to get my check?” 

Jokes aside … just kidding. Michael Harriot also came through and discussed Juneteenth, and because we’re thorough, we had Athenia Rodney, the founder of one of the largest Juneteenth festivals in the country, Juneteenth N.Y.C., talk to us about the importance of celebrating such a monumental event in United States history. 

You see, in order to do a special right, we have to educate as well as entertain. So of course that means we had to discuss the Black national anthem, James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song in which I think we all know the first verse but it gets REAL shaky after that … I know in my church there was a whole lot of humming going on from verses 2 through 90 (I may be off by two or three on that actual verse tally). 

My favorite part of the special — aside from hosting it with Natasha — is the finale, featuring the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Full disclosure: I’ve never seen a live performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and I feel a way about this. It’s not that I’m not up on game; I’m super familiar with Alvin Ailey’s story and the creation of the legendary dance company. I don’t have an excuse really, but after seeing this performance (if you’re like me), you won’t either. Nothing says freedom like the creative use of our bodies to elicit emotion and language, which is what they execute through dance and choreography. 

Look, it’s Juneteenth in 2023, which means you actually have a lot of options to learn about and participate in Juneteenth but none are going to give you what theGrio is giving you: pure unbridled Black joy and knowledge. From Gina Yashere and Robin Roberts to Marc Lamont Hill and James Langley, there’s a little something for everybody this Juneteenth around theGrio HQ. So come on inside and join the party by checking out our “Freedom Forward: Juneteenth Special” on or streaming it on theGrio’s YouTube or Facebook feeds. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.