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Art Leadership Center 's Juneteenth Fest continues the Macknificent tradition

Alli and Elisha, true to the ALC's goals, work to systematically develop Renaissance Scholars and Artists with a Global Conscience.
Julia Meek/WBOI
Alli and Elisha, true to the ALC's goals, work to systematically develop Renaissance Scholars and Artists with a Global Conscience.

The Art Leadership Center is gearing up for local Juneteenth celebrations with its 4th annual Macknificent Freedom Fest.

This popular all-day event takes place next Saturday, June 15, along the city’s southeast side, beginning with opening ceremonies at Weisser Park and ending at McMillen Park, with a wide assortment of activities and entertainment.

The ALC, centered around the Arts, is designed for the systematic development of leaders of character with a global conscience that serve underdeveloped and underrepresented communities Nationally and Internationally, according to its founder and director, Adrian Curry.

WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the festival’s development and meaning with ACL team members Alli Wims and Elisha Brown, and what’s in store this year.

Event Information:

ALC’s Macknificent Freedom Fest
@ McMillen Park, Fort Wayne
Saturday, June 15, 1:00 p.m.

Keeper of the Light Ceremony @ Weisser Park, 10:00 a.m.
Promenade down Oxford Street, 11:30 a.m.

For more information visit the ALC Facebook page or ALC website.

Here's a transcript of our conversation:

Julia Meek: Miss Allison Wims Mr. Elisha Brown, welcome.

Allison Wims: Thank you.

 Elisha Brown: Thank you for having us.

Julia Meek: Now it must be pretty busy over at the Art Leadership Center these days. Briefly, would you remind us what the purpose of this glorious event is?

 Allison Wims: The Macknificent Freedom Fest's purpose is to align, build and crystallize the community's body, as well as connect leaders and organizations that embody a collective approach for community welfare, and events, locally and abroad.

Julia Meek: That's a noble goal. And Juneteenth has been celebrated here in Fort Wayne since the early 90s. And thanks to your fearless leader, Adrian Curry getting involved in 2021, this holiday, it continued to thrive, and the Macknificent Freedom Fest was born in 2022. So how did the two of you get involved?

 Elisha Brown: Well, I got involved through the Art Leadership Center when I was about 11 years old. I saw the Art Leadership Center perform, and I knew that I would like to join, it just seemed like a great thing to be a part of, and I didn't know much about it.

But as I got acclimated into the program, I learned that it was much more than just stepping, it was about discipline training and learning, and lecture and lab, and being a part of the community and making an impact on your community.

 Julia Meek: And the stepping is a wonderful, physical activity presentation, it's alost a dance, a stepping out kind of movement.

Elisha Brown: Yes ma'am. The stepping, it originates from the gumboot dancers and also through college stepping. And during the marches, they used to make angry faces called mugs.

 And that's what we do when we perform. Then they did that to ward off angry protesters who were trying to burn down their schools and things of that nature.

 Julia Meek: What a powerful story about a powerful tradition. And Allison, how did you get into things?

Allison Wims: Well, I've known Mr. Curry and his whole family for a long time. I used to actually perform poetry years ago, years ago, and then I believe it was in 2021, Mr. Curry called me.

 I was one of the organizations and individuals that he called. I personally own Brain Geeks Learn which is a learning service for children.

And he said, Come on out, you know, we'll connect collaborate, and I've been working with Mr. Curry since then.

Julia Meek: (chuckles) That's a great story. Mr. Curry has an impact on everyone around him, and lets those around him impact his life too. Now just what does the Macknificent designation of your Fest mean?

 Elisha Brown: Well, the Macknificent Freedom Fest is designed to systematically develop Renaissance leaders with the global conscience that embody five was of leadership, well read, well spoken, well dressed, well traveled and well balanced.

And where the "mack" comes from, there were a couple of different aspects where we got the name Macknificent. Of course, we have our festival at McMillen Park. That's just one small aspect of it.

But another one comes from the book of Maccabees, where a tribe from Israel decided to fight on the Sabbath day, a day that they were supposed to hold sacred. They were supposed to be resting on this day.

But because they were being fought against, they were being slaughtered, they decided through their leader Mathias that they would fight on the Shabbat and they would take a stand to stop the slaughtering of their people.

That's where another version of the Mack comes from, but also from Miss Costella Mack, also known as Miss Cozi Mack, we have an award dedicated to her, at McMillen Park during our festival, called the Cozi Mack award, and we present it to a leader in the community every year.

 Julia Meek: What a meaningful, all encompassing story for every single aspect of local Juneteenth celebration. Now, this is a one day multi faceted celebration, and you folks don't mess around. (chuckles)

We've seen that in this Macknificent festival days past. Let's talk about how this whole thing unfolds. And that would be the Keepers of the Light ceremony?

Elisha Brown: Yes, ma'am. We start our event at 10am at Weisser Park with our Keepers of the Light ceremony, and that's the 30 minute Rites of Passage ceremony where leaders take a vow to be righteous custodians for the Macknificent Freedom Fest.

 They pledge to be systematically educated in the policies and procedures to maintain their history and culture.

Julia Meek: Mmhhm, that sounds impressive, off course, it is impressive, and that's something that you've gone through?

Elisha Brown: Yes, ma'am. Miss Alli and myself went through the Keepers of the Light ceremony last year. And after the ceremony, we start moving towards Optimistics and Oxford to begin our ALC Promenade, hosted by the Art Leadership Center.

 That's at 11:30. We stroll down Oxford Street making contact with businesses and the community's people, and once we reach McMillen, there we have our festival which starts at 1pm.

Elisha Brown: Really a wonderful, wonderful schedule that you have for the day. I know it always goes well. And of course this is open to the public, and they are encouraged to join you.

 Allison Wims: Absolutely.

 Julia Meek: Meanwhile, you've both been on that Promenade. What do you see? What does it feel like from that side, looking out at the community that you know and love?

 Elisha Brown: Well, I say for me, it's definitely a performance, considering that the Art Leadership Center, we're strolling down Oxford Street, we're dancing (all chuckle) yeah, in the Promenade and it's about a mile long, so of course, it can get tiring for the students.

But we persevere because we know it's a cause greater than ourselves, it's for the community. It's to show that there are people in our community that do care. And the ALC Promenade represents a spine.

 So as we traveled down Oxford Street, we can show the strength of our community through that spine. And of course, we have people from the community watching us and that's always a great motivator to have, to see that the community really cares about us.

 Julia Meek: Amen. And Alli, being the educator and the earth mother to everybody, probably in all the things that you do, what's it feel like?

 Allison Wims: Well for me, it's an overwhelming feeling, you know, watching the children, their excitement. When I was in the parade, I was able to pass out candy, water bottles, things like that.

 So the joy in their hearts, and just kind of getting the whole Oxford Street acclimated to this new tradition. I can tell they enjoyed it. It's new, they loved it. It made me feel great!

And it made me feel amazing to see the ALC, because they were in front of me dancing. (all laugh) Those children have a lot of heart! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Amen! And the parade route, if you've got it in you to be doing it, it's an excellent moving platform. And it gets you right down there to McMillen Park. And once we get down there, what is going to happen then?

Elisha Brown: We have an opening ceremony, of course, where there will be a singing of the Black national anthem. And we also have our emcee there, Mr. Tony Betton.

 Julia Meek: Great!

 Elisha Brown: Yes, he presents an overall view of the event. And once that is over with, we have performers on the main stage, a variety, poets, dancers, singers, the whole shebang. We also have going on, Miss Alli's Brain Geeks Learn Children's Corner for the children.

 Julia Meek: Perfect! (chuckles)

Elisha Brown: Yes, we have bouncy houses for the children.

Allison Wims: Yes, bouncy houses, bubble land, we'll have a nice craft for the children and face painting and horse carriage rides, free rides for the children. We have plenty of vendors that are going to come it's going to be amazing.

 Julia Meek: Really, make a whole day of this is encouraged?

Allison Wims: Absolutely! We also have tournaments for those who are interested in playing sports like basketball, kickball, and football.

 Julia Meek: Just perfect. Now, from your standpoint, besides the wonderful fun and the games, and the vendors and everything else, what's the most important focus here on this day?

 Elisha Brown: Well, of course, we want to remember our purpose. We want to organize, educate, and celebrate. Celebrating is very important. And organizing, of course, we have the community there.

But the education portion is also important. We want to make sure that we are learning about our history through the teaching of the history from the people up on the main stage.

We want to make sure that we're listening and that we are receiving this information, and hopefully interest some of our community members to maybe join the Macknificent Freedom Fest or even come to class and one day, do the Keepers of the Light ceremony.

 Julia Meek: Really be a part of it?

Elisha Brown: Yes, ma'am.

 Julia Meek: And Alli, back to the Five Wells of Leadership, how do you personally apply them to your lives and those that you are mentoring and teaching.

Allison Wims: Well read, will spoken, well dressed, well balanced, well traveled, those are not in the complete order, however, (chuckles) all of those mean that I must be my best, at my excellence, right?

 So, if we're talking about being well read, we have to read books, educational books, books that are going to teach us things that are valuable, as well as speaking, speaking clear, being concise, opening up my mouth, that's really important.

 That's one of the things for sure.

Julia Meek: Mmhhhmmm, leadership, it's every aspect of leadership.

 Allison Wims: Absolutely! And also paying attention to how you dress, where you travel, we all need our balance in life.

So, we want to be excellent on all of these levels. And having students, these are one of the things that I push because they are our future. They must be excellent.

 Julia Meek: And its sort of your responsibility to get them in and also to lead them to that.

 Allison Wims: Yes, yes.

Julia Meek: Now, your goal with the art leadership program is to provide a standard model for this Macknificent Freedom Fest, globally. What could that mean, do you think?

 Allison Wims: Absolutely being the literal model for freedom celebrations worldwide, not just how we go about the presentation or the production that's going to happen June 15, but also the teachings of who we are as individuals or as people, how we can utilize who we are as our strength and be able to serve and help others.

So that's something that we want to duplicate not only for the festival, but also for our leaders, for the leaders coming up, for our young people coming up, our Renaissance leaders.

Julia Meek: And I am curious, did you two know what this was all about before or as you got into the group? And now that you do, can you believe it?

Allison Wims: (chuckles) For me? Honestly, I just wanted to help, I wanted to be involved in, just in community overall.

And being around Mr. Curry, he's a well advance educator, you know, and he really opens my eyes to the reality of what's going on around me, not just what I want, but what other people need.

 And for me as an educator, it's not about just me, it's about those who are impacted. So no, I wasn't really aware. But now that I am, I enjoy it, I'm loyal to the cause. I understand it to the fullest. And I encourage anyone to experience it with us.

Julia Meek: What about you, Elisha?

Elisha Brown: I would say the same. Mr. Curry, he's a very good teacher. What makes him a good teacher is that he doesn't mind repeating himself over and over.

And I think that's a great tool when it comes to learning, because you can't receive everything on the first time. It takes time, it takes years to fully understand what's being taught.

So, with the Art Leadership Center, I've been able to take those teachings from Mr. Curry and apply them to the Macknificent Freedom Fest in real time.

Julia Meek: And how do you actually spread your word, everything you stand for, you know, from your own backyard, so to speak, to the rest of the world, but through the ways that you do?

 Allison Wims: For me, I make sure that all my students on and all those that I'm naturally around know what's going on.

 I also believe that many of these students need to see a person do it, not just be told to do something or told, oh, this is a great experience. I have to be that experience. I have to be that example.

So I do it in that way, as well as, of course, word of mouth. We're both great with marketing, so they always get the word out!

 Julia Meek: Yeah, and good, that's quite necessary in this 21st century, it's essential. Now, Elisha, what does the whole leadership program do for you? And what do you want to do for it?

Elisha Brown: Well, it's been able to teach me, of course, about certain subjects, but also teach me about life and learning discipline training, learning how to communicate with people in my community, an example that being the Macknificent Freedom Fest.

Mr. Curry talks a lot about lecture and lab; lecture would be being in the classroom, receiving the information and lab will be going out and doing the thing.

So, the Macknificent Freedom Fest would be a great example of that, because now I have to take those teachings and apply them to the celebration to bring something to the community.

Julia Meek: That you have to first learn yourself, of course, that's, that's a good point. And now if you each could add something new to your program, totally special, money's no object, sky is the limit. What would it be?

 Allison Wims: For me, it's a couple of things, but I will say for the Brain Geeks Learn Children's Corner I would add, like a kinetic sandbox for the children, not only to play with but be able to build.

And I also would do something for the men. I would do golf, like have a golf tournament.

Julia Meek: Clever. That's why we've got you in charge. Okay, Elisha? (all chuckle)

 Elisha Brown: Well, for the Macknificent Freedom Fest, we try to gain new activities every year, just to add on to grow our celebration.

And I think we're doing a great job of that. I think every year I always see something new in the picture for the Macknificent Freedom Fest.

Over time. I think I could see maybe, I don't know, maybe like a film festival because I do aspire to be a film director. Or maybe an artist walk-through where artists can submit their work, something like that. I think that'd be wonderful.

Julia Meek: I think we see why you're on the committee as wel--great ideas. And last question, you two. What would you like everyone to know about Juneteenth, that powerful, powerful celebration, about you leaders, and about your message?

Elisha Brown: So, we're having the Macknificent Freedom Fest, June 15th, starting at Weisser Park Youth Center at 10am. Please come out. Everyone is welcome to celebrate, everyone is welcome to be educated and everyone is welcome to organize.

We cannot do this alone. It's a community effort. We would love to see you out there. And if you are intrigued by what you see, please come join us in our committees.

 And if you are even more interested, once you are in the committee, see what else you can do, how deeper you can get into the program.

Julia Meek: Alli?

Allison Wims: Yes, we're always looking for more volunteers. I do want everyone to remember that a servant to many is a leader to all, and that's what we stand by. And welcome to the Macknificent Freedom Fest.

Julia Meek: Ms. Allison Wims is the Executive Chair and Mr. Elisha Brown, the Vice Chair of the programming committee for the Macknificent Freedom Fest. Thanks for your work and the story you share with us, folks. Many blessings, do carry the gift.

Elisha Brown: Thank you for having us.

 Allison Wims: Thank you so much.