Twana Benoit grew up celebrating every Juneteenth with friends and family at a big, all-day picnic. They would sing and dance and eat together, marking the anniversary of an important moment in history.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the confederate states. Its name is a combination of "June" and "19th," the date in 1865 when the Union Army established authority over Texas, and it became a federally recognized holiday in 2021.
"Juneteenth is important to me because it helps our people recognize that there was a transition from slavery to freedom and that you should, every day, have a reason to remember we are American first and then Americans who happen to be African," Benoit said. "Anything that uplifts our African culture I'm about."
Benoit observed Juneteenth that way throughout her childhood in north Louisiana, but when she moved to Lafayette for college, she was surprised to find many people had never heard of the holiday in her new home.
Thankfully, that's changed, with events taking place observing the holiday throughout Acadiana, and of course, Benoit has played a part in that evolution.
Years ago she was asked to write a play to explain the history behind Juneteenth to children. "The Juneteenth Story," her two-hour play, has been performed for many times since the early 2000s, and she changed it over time to reach more audiences.
"The Juneteenth Story has existed in one form or another since 2007," she said. "I said yes (to writing it) because it was important to me. I love now having the opportunity to celebrate Juneteenth the way it should be done."
'It speaks to all your senses'
Benoit is an associate registrar at South Louisiana Community College as well as a writer. She began writing poetry when she was in middle school.
"To me, (writing) is easy," she said. "Being a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives me what to say and I just write it down. The credit all goes to God. I'm just the vessel."
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Her play tells the story of freedom through the fictional Williams family as they prepare for the annual Juneteenth festival. Her writing outlines the historical significance of the holiday while also including moments of laughter and reflection.
"Everybody leaves the play saying, 'I did not know that,'" Benoit said. "I just want everybody who wants to laugh and cry and find out more information they didn't before, to come see it."
The performance also features local actors, music and dancing and is directed by her son and actor, Josiah Price, and her talented friend, Natalie Spencer.
"It speaks to all your senses," she said. "I'm able to give it to great directors. I trust them to turn the words into something that will leave an impact on people.
Tickets are available for purchase online or at the Acadiana Center for the Arts box office.
Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Juneteenth play puts history on stage Wednesday