On Saturday, July 11, 2020, Christiansburg Institute, Inc. (CI, Inc.) and the Christiansburg Institute Alumni Association (CIAA) together enjoyed the utmost honor and privilege of hosting, ‘Juneteenth: A Celebration of Black Lives, Black Talent & Black Joy’ at the historic site of the former African-American high school, Christiansburg Industrial Institute. The celebration re-united African-American communities and the greater New River Valley and beyond in a collective spirit of solidarity, truth-telling, and joy on the hallowed grounds of the historic Institute campus.

The first enrolled students at Christiansburg Institute were freed people, formerly enslaved locally in Montgomery County, having been emancipated in 1866. Nancy Campbell, a Christiansburg resident and freedperson before emancipation, permitted the school to host it’s first class in her small log cabin in remote Christiansburg. In these early stages of the Institute’s life and development the school grew quickly and two new structures were erected, the Old Hill School and First African Baptist Church. It’s first Board of Deacons at the church, later renamed Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church, were themselves all previously enslaved in the Montgomery County area. Indeed, many of the Institute’s principles and instructors were themselves a generation or less removed from chattel slavery and the institutional trafficking of Black bodies. Thus, from its birth, Christiansburg Industrial Institute’s 100-year legacy of education and empowerment is intimately and undeniably interwoven – it is tethered to unprecedented political, economic, and social events in American life.

The Juneteenth 2020 celebration at Christiansburg Institute offered a visceral and energizing experience, featuring curated content and creative spaces designed to

establish and grow paths of empathy, joy, and towards a community practice of restorative justice. Over 500 community members from across the Valley journeyed to Christiansburg Institute to experience live music, poetry, and fitness demonstrations, free therapy consultations, cultural food options, Black-owned vendors and businesses, and to witness the sheer power of the hallowed and sacred land at the historic Christiansburg Industrial Institute campus. The great and powerful Nikki Giovanni delivered an original and inspiring poem, highlighting the critical importance of voting and participating in the democratic process.

Our Juneteenth Planning Committee worked courageously and endlessly to ensure an accessible and safe experience for all community members at our property. Protecting the most vulnerable during a pandemic crisis and escalated racial tensions was foregrounded into the strategic planning process and visioning of the committee, guiding the organization and programming of our 4.4 acres campus. As land privately owned by the Christiansburg Institute Alumni Association, we took seriously our responsibility to develop and enact a comprehensive and sustainable model of community safety and mutual aid without the direct involvement or leadership of local law enforcement agencies. The Juneteenth Planning committee created a Community Safety subcommittee responsible for land security and access, autonomous community driven de-escalation tactics, establishing protocol for contacting law enforcement, and upholding COVID-19 guidelines. The subcommittee had meetings with the director of New River Valley healthcare, Dr. Bissell, and law enforcement leadership from across Montgomery County. On site during the celebration our team hosted a wellness tent with access to PPE’s; face coverings, sanitizer, and water bottles. Tables, chairs, tents, and vendor booths were placed at least 6 feet apart and an ADA accessible outdoor bathroom facility was on site. Throughout the event members of the community safety subcommittee would periodically share our safety plan from the main stage with the audience.

CI, Inc. and CIAA would like to especially thank the Juneteenth Planning Committee members for their outstanding work; Chatrice Barnes, Christine King, Karen Jones, Lateffa Akers-Smith, Debbie Sherman-Lee, Andrae Hash, and Chris Sanchez. We’d also like to thank our partner, the Town of Christiansburg, our main speaker, Nikki Giovanni, and the entire New River Valley community for helping us to create an incredible and memorable, ‘Juneteenth: A Celebration of Black Lives, Black Talent & Black Joy’ at Christiansburg Institute.

Article written by Chris Sanchez, Executive Director of Christiansburg Institute, Inc.

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