Liberia’s bicentennial celebrations will take a fortuitous turn this weekend, as guests arrive in the country for a week-long event called the ‘Journey Home Festival’. According to the organizers, the festival, which runs from June 17-26, 2022, celebrates Liberia as the Door of Return and directly connects the country’s African American heritage through an exchange of culture, lifestyle, education, entrepreneurship and other opportunities.
Many African-Americans have, in recent years, flocked to West Africa in search of a place connected to their ancestry. Some have discovered their ancestral bearings through DNA mapping — a way to reestablish their roots on the Continent of Africa.
And while Senegal and Ghana have become hot-spots for these heritage-minded kinfolk, festival entrepreneurs Saqar Ahhah Ahershu and Den Tut Rayay say a major destination — the Republic of Liberia — is missing from the conversation.
“I think Liberia is one of the easiest places for African Americans to acclimate because the culture is akin to America and the people of Liberia are very hospitable. There is a lot of African American heritage in the country,” Ahershu told the Daily Observer.
A major highlight of the Journey Home Festival this year will be the celebration of ‘Juneteenth’.
For those who may not know, Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Juneteenth begets its name from the “June 19th” (get it?) announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, in the year 1865, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas, which was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.
Celebrated unofficially since 1865, the day was finally recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. So, although the day is now officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, it has also been known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day.
There is no record of Liberia having celebrated this holiday before, so this might just be the first. But the Journey Home Festival organizers are not lost on the historical significance that Juneteenth could reignite the African-American connection to Liberia in a significant way.
Coming to kick-start the Journey Home Festival is Rev. Dr. Cynthia D. Jackson, a female judge of Jersey City Municipal Court in the State of New Jersey. A first-time visitor to Liberia, Judge Jackson is an African American and pastor of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Newark, New Jersey.
Also expected in Liberia are Jessica Poitevian of Travelandleisure.com, Ronda Penrice of Ebony Magazine and a journalist from France 24, alongside other African Americans for the Journey Home Festival.
Activities of the Journey Home Festival will include excursions to tourist attractions in Monrovia and beyond, including Providence Island, the National Museum, and the cultural village of Dimeh, to name a few. But the JHF is more than an excursion around the country. The organizers have put together a number of rich knowledge and cultural exchanges, including a Business Exchange and a Film Festival.