Featured photo: Joseph Wilkerson has worked to publish a magazine for Greensboro’s Juneteenth festivities for the last four years. (courtesy photo)

Joseph Wilkerson III is an artist, community activist and organizer who has lived and worked in Greensboro for decades. As part of the city’s official Juneteenth celebration, the fourth one on the books, Wilkerson helps to create and distribute magazines that serve as a guide to the events. In our conversation, Wilkerson talked about his history in Greensboro, his experience creating magazines and his contribution to the Juneteenth festivities. To learn more about Juneteenth in Greensboro this year, which runs from June 14-16, visit juneteenthgso.wordpress.com. Find one of the free Juneteenth magazines at your local library branch.

You’ve been active in the Greensboro arts community for years. Tell me a little about that history.

I was born in Brooklyn and my mother was a schoolteacher, my father was in the military, but they both went to A&T. That’s where they met. And in 1988, I came to Greensboro to go to A&T for architectural engineering. In my case, I didn’t have the focus to finish college.

Life got to lifing and at some point in time, I decided I wanted to shoot my own film. This was in the early 2000s; YouTube hadn’t been created at this point, we still had dial-up. Videos were really small, grainy, but I thought, Hollywood exists, and you have to start somewhere.

That’s when I realized that there’s these things called film festivals and I decided to create an urban film community. I started it in 2003; it was called the Urban Literature Film Festival. I also felt like there needed to be a magazine that would talk about the filmmakers and the films. That’s when I created Urban Literature magazine.

Tell me about how you got involved with helping planning Juneteenth.

So I also had an art gallery at Boston’s House of Jazz for a while and I started the Uptown Greensboro nonprofit. So I had been doing this for a while. I had an arts space. This was not new to me.

Around that time, I wanted to do a community festival in uptown and a friend of mine had suggested that I do a festival for Father’s Day in 2020. Right before then, I connected with Princess Johnson who said she was looking to do a multi-day Juneteenth festival. I didn’t know enough about Juneteenth at the time but I said I didn’t mind adding my festival to Juneteenth. But because of COVID, the festival ended up moving to 2021. That’s when Princess, April Parker, me, Lavinia [Jackson] and Zitty [Nxumalo], we created the first Juneteenth festival in 2021.

How did the magazine come to play a role in Juneteenth?

So I knew what the Urban Literature magazine did back in the day when I did them. Everybody looked forward to them. I didn’t know anybody in this group but we came to this realization that we have this nice structure as far as the events we have laid out, and one of the suggestions that I made was to create a magazine that would double as a guide to provide all of this information.

The group didn’t necessarily understand what I was proposing. I think it wasn’t until the magazine came back and once they actually had them in hand, and saw people going to the libraries to get them, that they realized that it was a powerful component.

The magazine is a free publication that is distributed to the city’s libraries that has a program of events as well as additional information. (courtesy photo)

And then after the first year, with understanding what Lavinia was bringing with the Sistars of Juneteenth and what Princess was bringing with the Arts Legacy Awards Show, I said that I think we should do a program booklet. Because everybody that first year was grabbing a magazine and using it as a program booklet and from a marketing and sponsorship standpoint, I thought we could have programs for all of them.

As someone who has been doing this for years, that’s what I was bringing to the table.

What’s the process like for creating the magazine?

We print 3,000 magazines and a majority of the cost is covered by the sponsorship package. Sponsors can pay to get ads in the magazine and in the program booklets. They can also get their logos on the website. 

Last year, the library said they would take on the responsibility of getting the magazines put out throughout the city. The two years before that, I had been doing it. When I would do it, I would document it and share it across Instagram and make everybody aware that the magazine is out. Last year, we didn’t get that recognition so this year, even though it’s a lot of work, I went back to what worked before. I delivered them myself.

Any final thoughts before this weekend?

I continue to appreciate putting it all together. I ask that the community gives us grace because we’re always striving to improve Juneteenth and make it better.

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