Ardsley Juneteenth Interview with Dana Laurient

Excerpt from an interview with Dana Laurient, Chair of the Ardsley Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion, conducted by Niara Jordan. 

NIARA: What was the start of bringing your Juneteenth celebration to life? 

DANA: As far as I know, this is our third annual celebration of Juneteenth here in Ardsley. This is the second one that I was involved in, and the very first one I attended. I was inspired. At that time I was a resident, just being a mom, and living in the community. I am definitely an activist and my children and I are very actively involved in social issues. The high school students—we have amazing students in this village—they worked with what is now the Ardsley Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Harrel and Jody were co-chairs at the time.

DANA: One of our wonderful residents and students, her name was Figer  along with some other students, organized the Juneteenth celebration. A pastor spoke, there was music, Senator Stewart- Cousins spoke and my kids and I were like, “Wow, this is great, how exciting.” We didn’t realize how involved our village was in social issues and things that were important to us as a culture, as African Americans. That inspired my daughter to write to the mayor about having a rally for Breonna Taylor, which we ended up doing that year in August. That was amazing as well. By the end of that year, I was a new chairperson of the Ardsley Multicultural Diversity and Inclusion Committee, AMDI for short. The following year we had our second annual Juneteenth and our high school students led the charge again. We formed a subcommittee. We had amazing speakers. We had music, violins, old Negro spirituals. We had food from a local restaurant from Tarrytown. We had apicnic. We had collard greens, ribs, potato salad. It was all good! We had an amazing speaker and writer from the Fieldston school, Alwin Jones. 

 This is our third annual Juneteenth coming up. Again we are engaging the residents, as well as the students. We have teachers, middle schoolers and high schoolers on our committee. We have an amazing mayor Nancy Kaboolian, who is a champion of all things diversity and inclusion. We have her support and amazing politicians come out every year including George Latimer, and of course, Andrea Stewart-Cousins who was our keynote speaker. 

This year we’re having a marching band, like old school, homecoming. We’re having a night event for the first time, from 5 to 9 PM at Pascone Park. We are going to have a DJ! You know, one thing that I love about this event is it that it brings the community together. Not just African Americans, but all cultures., What I’m finding in my particular community is that we have extremely talented writers, DJs, musicians and artists in my village that I didn’t know. This year we’re featuring DJ Casino. He’s a world-renowned DJ. He’s lived around the corner all this time. and we didn’t know. We’re having food trucks, tents, lights, and an African drum circle. 


DANA: It’s gonna be big. We’re allowing high schoolers to take a lead role with singing the national black Anthem and presenting poetry. Last year they did a game show, “fun facts.” This year we’re keeping it open, letting them create the artistic share of the program. Our biggest thing is ‘teachable moments.’ In every event that we put on, especially Juneteenth, but whether it’s Pride, Diwali or Jewish heritage month, whatever event we host as a committee, our hope is to teach and make it fun. It’s either a ‘fun fact’ or a ‘teachable moment.”’ Our in-person and zoom events are always fun. This year we’re gonna have lots of food and lots of fun for the whole family. We always let everyone go away with goodie bags. We have things for the children to engage with. It’s very interactive. And we’re gonna have a dance party this year!

NIARA: A celebration! 

DANA: A celebration for sure!

 NIARA: Before you all started your celebration, did you know of any history of Juneteenth being celebrated in Ardsley?

DANA: No. I was not aware of any other celebration of Juneteenth. But I will tell you this, the school district is really great at celebrating Juneteenth. The kids get off the Monday after. It is a national holiday now. We have a great superintendent and he acknowledges it. He allows the students to participate. I believe it’s their senior project, their passion project…many of them have used Juneteenth as their exit passion project. We’re really excited that this year the school district has allowed them to be externs— so they’re gonna get community service credit for participating in Juneteenth, which is tremendous. Because we want to encourage our children to be leaders, to participate in their community but also on the global level be able to speak to issues that affect us everyday, that are part of history and American history. It’s not just for African American students. Traditionally, it’s not just African American students who have participated. I love our students. They are so thoughtful. They are leaders. They are world changers.  I’m really proud to be partnering with them. We try to partner with them in everything we do. I’m really glad that this year they are going to get the academic credit for their participation. I think that’s special.

NIARA: Did you get to learn about Juneteenth growing up yourself?

DANA: Honestly speaking, I didn’t learn about Juneteenth until I was a whole adult.

NIARA: Yeah. That’s a lot of us.

DANA: I did not hear about it in school. I did not learn about it. Not even in my African American studies courses in college. It probably feels like a lifetime away to others. It feels like only yesterday to me. I did not know just like I did not know about the Tulsa bombings. So happy to hear that they will be getting reparations for that. That it’s on the Senate floor, I believe. A lot of these things that occur in American history are not written in the books—but they are still history and that doesn’t change the facts. It is important that we educate ourselves and that we educate our children. All history is good history; we can decide whether we want to grow from it, whether we want to not repeat it. We are not gonna repeat that history. I think it’s important for us to educate our children and the world about some of the roots of America; the good, the bad and the ugly. It makes us who we are today. The short of it is that no, I didn’t learn about it. But I teach my children. All four of my children know about it. They all know it and we celebrate it. They are required to [laughs].

NIARA: It should be required learning because it is part of our history and it’s too easily erased. You’re doing the right thing and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it once they’re adults. 

I wanna thank you so much for your time today, for sharing the work that you are doing. And I hope that you keep it up. 

DANA:  Thank you! I just really want to give a shoutout to ArtsWestchester. This Juneteenth Coalition, which I’m part of this year – humbly and gratefully a part of – it’s amazing. Just to know that each town and village is leading their own celebration, is amazing. I hope to visit each one. And collectively, I’m just proud to be a part of this movement. And I think it’s important. It says a lot about Westchester and ArtsWestchester. So, thank you.

NIARA: Yes. And it all exists because of people like you. So thank YOU.

About ArtsWestchester

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue.