By Raymond P. Diamond

On May 14, activist and artist Athena Lynch sat down over coffee at Arabica Coffee in Portland with Raminta Moore, Art and Culture Librarian of Portland Public Library (PPL). The topic of conversation was an upcoming Juneteenth series of events focused on the theme of liberation that Lynch and Moore are co-sponsoring at PPL on June 21. The series will commemorate America’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, which is officially observed on June 19 (hence the name).

Athena Lynch

The first event of the series is a discussion panel called “Reclaiming the Tides: A Liberation of Water.” The topic will be the relationship between Black people, their bodies, and bodies of water. The aim of the panel, Lynch explained, is “shifting these monolithic narratives” that include a lack of Black representation in Maine’s maritime history, water-based industry jobs, and addressing Black youth’s relationship to water – including the age-old stereotype that “Black people don’t know how to swim.”

The panel will include speakers with a diverse range of experiences and relationships with bodies of water in Maine: historian Seth Goldstein, performing and teaching artist Janine Georgette, also known as JG, and Ben Coniff, who is co-founder of Luke’s Lobster. Goldstein specializes in Black history focused on Maine’s maritime history. JG has first-hand experience with solo sailing. Coniff heads the “Lift All Boats Project,” the student lobster mentorship program of Luke’s Lobster , which gives young people of color and of immigrant descent hands-on, professional experience within lobstering – an industry generally dominated by white people. In addition to the adults, two students from Lift All Boats will participate in the panel.

Following the panel, Danielle Foster, formerly with Fryeburg Rescue, an emergency medical services nonprofit in western Maine, will conduct a CPR and first-aid demonstration. Lynch explained that the demonstration is about having access to resources and tools, in order to know what to do in an emergency situation, thus “liberating our minds from fear and helplessness in desperate situations.”

The final event in the series is “Liberated Breath: A Juneteenth Yoga Experience” on June 26 at 7 p.m., in collaboration with Victoria Rutledge of the Portland Yoga Project. Inclusion of a yoga class was inspired by Lynch’s personal experience with the project’s weekly BIPOC yoga nights.

“[During this series] we’re breaking stereotypes, we’re changing narratives, we’re doing a CPR and first-aid demonstration … we [needed] something that feeds the spirit. That’s where yoga comes in,” Lynch said, adding that the end goal of the yoga session is liberating one’s body and spirit.

About Portland Public Library’s interest in hosting this event, Moore said, “We strive to be as inclusive as we can be, because we serve the community, and [community includes] everyone.”