On Thursday, June 15th, the prestigious Warner Theatre in DC played host to the annual Juneteenth Foundation Awards event. The philanthropic organization not only revolves around the federal holiday of Juneteenth but also has a broader mission to celebrate black history and achievements. With a commitment to community work and a series of events surrounding the holiday, the foundation truly embodies the spirit of unity and progress. Among the notable events, this week were a book and bike giveaway, a lively community block party, and a thought-provoking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Panel Discussion.
Each year, the award ceremony recognizes black excellence across all domains, from activism to music. Last year’s event witnessed the attendance of remarkable personalities such as T.I., DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty. This year, the awards drew yet another star-studded lineup of famous and accomplished guests, including luminaries like Tamika Mallory, Dr. Kevin James, Rohan Marley, MC Lyte, Toosii, Hill Harper, and iAMCompton, among many others. As the guests graced the red carpet, their ensembles exuded an array of fascinating styles, setting the stage for an evening of fashion and distinction. Amidst the glitz and glamor, the attendees took the opportunity to share their personal reflections on the significance of Juneteenth.
The evening commenced with opening remarks from renowned rapper and activist T.I., who set the tone for the event by emphasizing the importance of honoring those who support the principles of the black community. T.I. encouraged attendees to contribute to the causes and support scholarships for HBCU students. He said, “We pay tribute to those who have our backs and stand up for the principles of our community. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy amazing performances from artists who contribute to creativity and black people’s equality. Remember, the best nation is a donation.”
Following T.I.’s introduction, the incomparable MC Lyte took the stage as the event’s host. Known for her iconic presence in the music industry and activism for financial literacy, MC Lyte highlighted the significance of the event in raising funds for deserving HBCU students. She remarked, “Tonight’s event isn’t the type of situation where you have to ask, ‘Why do they pick him?’ Because you know that we don’t ask anybody to be a part of this. Every artist and public figure here tonight are shimmering reflections of their devotion and commitment to the black community.”
MC Lyte passionately shared the historical account, stating, “June 19th is our independence day. It commemorates the day that the last emancipated enslaved African Americans found out that they were FREE. It’s our independence day. It’s a time for reflection on freedom, on American democracy, all while serving as an opportunity to promote and celebrate our culture.” This Year’s Honorees Included Herbie Hancock, Chuck D, Tamika Mallory, Rohan Marley, and Dr. Kevin James
Activist Tamika Mallory,was introduced by Brianca Hurley whose sparkling blue dress left the audience screaming, took the stage to share inspiring words about the holiday and the exceptional event eloquently expressed her thoughts: “I think about Juneteenth, and I think about the fact that so many people didn’t know they were free and how so many people still, even in this moment, have not been freed from these chains. I believe it is our responsibility to use Juneteenth as a moment to advocate for reparations—for our community and for our people.” Mallory’s poignant words resonated with the audience, highlighting the enduring struggle for justice and equality.
Mallory’s impactful contributions earned her the esteemed 2023 Freedom Fighter Award, an honor she graciously accepted. The awards show itself was skillfully hosted by hip-hop legend MC Lyte, who commenced the night with a heartfelt speech about the historical significance of Juneteenth.
Laquan Austion, the founder of the Juneteenth Foundation, expressed his vision of making Juneteenth celebrations as significant as the Macy’s Day Parade. He stressed the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), and the foundation’s commitment to providing scholarships for HBCU students. Austion stated, “Juneteenth is all about community. It’s our celebration. The nation needs to tap in and lock in and do this.” Austion’s dedication and passion for the cause have resulted in over a million dollars raised for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), a remarkable achievement that remained a focal point throughout the event.
DJ 5’9”, in a moment of lightheartedness, engaged the crowd by asking which HBCUs they had attended, leading to a joyous swaying of the audience as the iconic song “Swag Surfin” filled the air. Dr. Kevin James, the esteemed president of Morris Brown College, received the prestigious Perseverance Award and shared the deep connection between HBCUs and Juneteenth. With great pride, James expressed, “Education for us, by us, means so much to our people. Morris Brown is truly exceptional, having upheld this legacy for 142 years. HBCUs have served as safe havens for black and brown individuals for centuries, and we deeply appreciate what Juneteenth represents, not only for black people but also for our cherished HBCUs.”
The evening continued with the presentation of several remarkable awards. Entrepreneur Rohan Marley, with his signature style and grace, was honored with the Athletic Altruism Award for his outstanding contributions to philanthropy. Musical legend Herbie Hancock, a true icon in the industry, received the prestigious Legacy and Black Excellence Award, celebrating his immeasurable impact on the world of music. Despite his absence, the legendary Chuck D, a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop, was rightfully bestowed with the Fight the Power Award, a testament to his unwavering dedication to social change.
The Juneteenth Foundation Awards ceremony also featured heart-racing musical performances that enraptured the audience. Rapper and singer Toosii, whose highly anticipated debut album, “NAUJOUR,” had just been released, took the stage and captivated everyone with his electrifying energy and undeniable talent. On the red carpet, Toosii expressed his gratitude, stating, “It’s another holiday, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it now that it’s a federal holiday.”
The awards show was a big success, igniting a spark of inspiration and unity among the attendees. However, the Juneteenth Foundation’s commitment to education, entertainment, and uplifting the community did not end there. The foundation has a host of engaging events planned for the remainder of the week, ensuring that the spirit of Juneteenth reverberates far beyond a single night of celebration.
The night reached its climax with a sensational performance by two of the biggest names in Hip Hop and R&B: Ashanti and Ja Rule. Ashanti took the stage alongside Ja Rule, serving enough nostalgia to go around. Together, they delivered an unforgettable rendition of their chart-topping hits, including “Always on Time” and “Mesmerize.” and many more of their hit songs.
Through the Juneteenth Foundation’s tireless efforts and unwavering dedication, they continue to champion the cause of black excellence, amplifying the voices of those who have long been marginalized. With each passing year, the foundation’s influence grows, attracting an ever-growing constellation of luminaries, supporters, and advocates who are committed to driving positive change. Juneteenth serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience, strength, and beauty within the black community—a celebration of freedom, culture, and heritage that resonates not only with those directly impacted but also with individuals from all walks of life who understand the importance of equality and justice. In the spirit of Juneteenth, let us remember that true progress lies in unity, understanding, and the unwavering pursuit of justice. Together, we can create a world where all voices are heard, celebrated, and uplifted.