Passing the Baton of Leadership to a New
|The Leadership: Annie Weatherby-
Flowers (l-r), Jessica Strong, Mona Adams
Winston and Ronnicia Johnson-Walker
“We’ve learned that a lot of the past executive committee members have everything up in their minds,” Johnson-Walker said. “They can
ramble off anything that we ask for. They can get any resource that we may need. But it is all about asking the right questions to get it. It’
s been interesting in that regard. But I think the two work well together whereas we can update what has been done in the past and they
are able to give us an idea of what has been done in the past.”
And as the mothers who gave Juneteenth life, Winston and Weatherby-Flowers had to release their ownership of the festival, something
that can be very difficult. But even with the different styles and approaches, the two generations of leaders were bound together with
their commitment to the principles of Juneteenth and a desire to see it continue.
“Transitions aren’t always perfect,” Weatherby-Flowers said. “It’s kind of like birthing. It’s like birth pains. You have to go through pain
in order to birth new things, the child, the new idea. If we’re in labor and the goal is to birth a new generation of organizers, a new
generation of co-chairs, that is where we are now.”
While it is difficult at times to let go, Weatherby-Flowers is also eager to see the transition happen.
“I’m glad that I was here to guide and instruct,” Weatherby-Flowers said. “I can even be an advisor, a person they can call and
troubleshoot with or run things by next year. But I really want them to just lead the process. I want to come and buy some food and sit
down in a tent and be a real board member and style and profile a little bit.”
Johnson-Walker was grateful that much like many corporations, there was an overlap in leadership so that valuable information and
perspectives were not lost and the show could go on.
“It’s the same old Juneteenth,” Johnson-Walker emphasized. “It’s a formula that works. So if it isn’t broken, why fix it? I think the
handoff has gone well and it has given the younger generation and the older generation a chance to dialogue and communicate and
pass on those traditions in the community that we have, that may not have been passed down otherwise. If we had let those who did it
continue to do it, we might have lost some of the things that we younger generation was able to pick up along the way. It’s really helpful
the way we have done the transition versus just having the previous chairs just completely step away versus them being there to
guide us and we are there to watch them. There are areas where it was all Jessica and I and there are areas where it was all Mona and
Annie putting it together and there were many areas where we just collaborated as a team. I think that made for a successful transition
versus one group taking over from another.”
As one of the mothers of Juneteenth, Weatherby-Flowers expects that there will be change as the new leadership ensures that
Juneteenth stays relevant for younger generations, but that its purpose will remain constant.
“I think next year, they’ll be saying, ‘We won’t do this next year,’” Weatherby-Flowers said. “’We’ll do this differently.’ I think they will
take on their own vision or concept for Juneteenth, which will be strongly educational. I really believe so. I’m glad the young people are
here. And even though some of them may not fully understand the significance, they understand that it is important and it is the place to
be. Once we get them here, it is up to us to educate. It is up to us to impart something that they can take with them to the next level.”
And with Strong and Johnson-Walker having firm roots in Madison’s African-American community — Strong has been active on the King
Coalition and Johnson-Walker chairs Heart & Soul for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority — Winston and Weatherby can feel secure that the spirit
of Juneteenth lives on while it does continue to grow and evolve.
“We need to do something to engage the younger people more,” Johnson-Walker said. “I think that will be the challenge for the
Juneteenth committee next year, how to engage the youth. We tried having talent shows. We tried doing spoken word. We’ve had a DJ.
We need to figure out how to engage them more, even if we put them more in the Main Tent and have a little more recent music in the
Main Tent within limits. This year, we had a performance where the youth, instead of performing in the tent, actually performed out in the
open field area. And it did collect a large crowd. So I think if we do more of that with performing out in the open versus just keeping
them enclosed in the tent and maybe doing some kind of activities, bringing in a DJ that does most of the dances for the high school
students just to bring them in so it isn’t just groups of young folks just gathering with their friends. We want to get them from solely just
walking around the park to being more engaged with the history, with the culture, with what is really happening here. ”
The “mothers” can be assured that their “child” is in good hands. Onward Juneteenth!
By Jonathan Gramling
It was 23 years ago that Annie Weatherby-Flowers and Mona Adams Winston joined
forces to establish the first Juneteenth Day celebration in Penn Park. While both had
seen the Juneteenth celebration in Milwaukee, neither of them were event planners for
an event of this magnitude.
“The first Juneteenth in Penn Park was a transition, a trial by error because we had
never done it before,” Weatherby-Flowers said during this year’s festivities held June
16 in Penn Park. “We noted what worked really well and what didn’t. And then we
started to see the vision of a bigger festival because people came and people came
and then the next year, people came. One year, we had 15,000 people in this park.
There were so many people, you could hardly see the grass or navigate through the
The pair has co-chaired a committee that year-in and year-out has ensured that the
Juneteenth celebration and its spirit remained alive. But as Winston and Weatherby-
Flowers near their retirement years, they felt it was important to keep the tradition alive
by recruiting some new blood from the younger generations and developing that new
leadership before they were out the door.
And so Ronnicia Johnson-Walker and Jessica Strong — who had served on the
Juneteenth planning committee before — were recruited to be the 2012 co-chairs
backed by Winston and Weatherby-Flowers. The difference in styles was apparent at
committee meetings. The younger generation came with laptops in hand to record what
was going on, update calendars and send out e-mails as needed. The older generation
came with the information in their heads and perhaps a pen and paper to take notes.