When Lynn native Nicole Mcclain was young, she remembers heading to Franklin Park in Dorchester each year to celebrate Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates the day that the last enslaved Black Americans were finally emancipated: June 19, 1865. What originated as a celebration of freedom among Black Americans in Texas in the nineteenth century is now a day of lively festivities among Black communities. Some cities celebrate with parades or concerts—Boston celebrates with an “oversized cookout” in Franklin Park, full of soul food, dancing, laughing, and family.
“As I got older, I was wondering why we didn’t have a Juneteenth celebration in Lynn or on the North Shore that was easier to get to,” says Mcclain, the founder of the North Shore Juneteenth Association. “So that’s what [this association] started off as—a need to have some representation for Black Americans on the North Shore.”
But in 2016, when Mcclain’s son, then sixteen, had a traumatizing encounter with local police, Mcclain felt like something needed to be done to change the often harmful narrative around Black Americans. “This negative representation of Black Americans has been widely exposed,” says Mcclain, who’s committed to showing “more positive images and aspects of Black American culture.”
Along with running a Juneteenth celebration on the North Shore, the Juneteenth Association hosts events and programming throughout the year, like 5Ks, paint nights, and “Hats and Heels High Tea” at Lynn Museum.
From left to right, the beside picture shows president Nicole Mcclain, member April Deaver Mosley, and vice president Jacquelyn Fitzhugh.
What’s typically a lively Juneteenth celebration in Lynn will be virtual this year, happening this Friday, June 19, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and available for streaming through Facebook and YouTube—check out their Facebook event page for more details. The evening will include spoken work, dancing and musical performances, and guest speakers.
Mcclain says her fondest Juneteenth Association memory was being nominated for Black Excellence on the Hill in 2019. Each February, the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus hosts this program at the State House, where elected officials and other community leaders honor the unsung heroes of our communities during Black History Month.
It’s no wonder Mcclain has such a passion for making her community a better place—she’s been serving others for practically her whole career. The wife and mother of one son is an Army veteran who deployed to Iraq and Baghdad in 2004 and 2008, respectively. She went to college for early childhood education and is currently a children’s librarian at Lynn Public Library. She’s also operated a home-based childcare service for the past six years.
In addition to the virtual Juneteenth event, the association is also organizing an anti-racism demonstration throughout Lynn this Saturday, plus a virtual Black Excellence 5K event on August 22, where participants will run to raise money and support the efforts of the North Shore Juneteenth Association. “This is our third year doing this 5K and usually we have it as an event where everybody comes and runs together,” says Mcclain. “But this year, you’ll chart your own course and run on your own.” For more information on the 5K and to register, click here.
Mcclain finds her passion to do all that she does from simply wanting to make life better for her family and others in her community. “I’ve experienced racism and prejudice being a Black American,” says Mcclain, “and now, my son has, too. My passion comes from preventing that cycle. I want to stop the frequent stories that Black Americans have about racist events in their lives. I want to be a part of at least making that less common.”
For now, Mcclain encourages us all to vote this year, to stand up against systemic racism, and to use our voices.