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Lift Ev'ry Voice Festival Will Return to Berkshires

Members of MCLA’s The Allegrettos sang to welcome the announcement that the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival is returning for its second season beginning in June.

The festival, which will again feature special events and performances celebrating the African-American culture and heritage in the Berkshires, was first held in 2011, and was attended by more than 30,000 people.

Festival co-chair Don Quinn Kelly said that the festival will focus on making the special programs and events accessible to attendees of all racial and economic backgrounds.

"Because we want Lift Ev'ry  Voice to celebrate freedom for all americans," said Kelly.

Festival co-chair and cofounder Shirley Edgerton said that the return of the festival is marked by strengthened cooperation with community partners.

"The intent is that we are very clear on who our partners are in supporting the activities and events, and being inclusive in terms of the conversations and the planning," said Edgerton.

The Jacob’s Pillow dance center in Becket, one of the community partners, will host the inaugural event for Lift Ev’ry Voice on June 19th, featuring performances from the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

June 19th, or Juneteenth, celebrates the abolition of slavery in the U.S.

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sandra Burton, representing Jacob’s Pillow at a press conference, said that the Pillow is located on property that was formerly used by escaped slaves in the underground railroad.

"The Carter Family who originally owned the property were abolitionists, and the Pillow was a safe haven for slaves who were escaping north," said Burton. "For us it seemed like a historic fit."

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams is another partner. Sue Killam, Managing Director of Performing Arts at the museum, said that Mass MOCA is expanding its participation this year.

"We kind of used what we learned from the first year," said Killam. "We were hoping we could use pop-up poetry through the galleries."

Municipal partners include North Adams and the City of Pittsfield, which among a handful of special events will be sponsoring a “Faith and Freedom” walk in honor of Rev. Samuel Harrison, one of Berkshire County’s most famous abolitionists, and chaplain to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. The first all African-American regiment and fought in the Civil War.

Meghan Whilden, Pittsfield’s Director of Cultural Development, said that Lift Ev’ry Voice is not only a celebration of culture but is also helpful for the health of the city and surrounding communities.

"It makes the Berkshires and the City of Pittsfield feel more welcoming and supporting for professionals of color and business owners of color," said Whilden. "The future of the U.S. and the world is going definitely multicultural and we need to be a part of that."

For the full schedule of events visit: http://liftevryvoice.org/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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