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Arts & Culture

A group in Nebraska is celebrating Juneteenth with a steampunk twist

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

While Juneteenth may be a relatively new federal holiday, its roots run deep. A group in Nebraska is celebrating the holiday with a twist of science fiction known as steampunk. The organizers mix the two in a unique event. Here's William Padmore of Nebraska Public Media News.

WILLIAM PADMORE, BYLINE: Steampunk - a genre of fiction where advanced steam-based technology replaces modern tech - is probably the last thing you might think of when it comes to Juneteenth. But not for Jade Rogers. She created the House of Afros, Capes & Curls to represent people like her - nerds of color.

JADE ROGERS: The comic conventions, the comic book shops, all of those places - no one in my community was targeting or trying to partner with or reaching out to Black organizations that I knew of.

PADMORE: So for Juneteenth, Rogers, who teaches history at local community colleges, decided to combine her two joys - history and all things geek.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi, everybody. Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi. Welcome, welcome, welcome. We're...

PADMORE: At the inaugural Steampunk Tea Party, dozens of people showed up, most of them in cosplay. Robert Anderson was dressed head to toe in his best steampunk attire with skulls, buckles and more straps than necessary. He says he felt excluded from certain aspects of nerd culture growing up due to his race. But events like this make him feel wanted.

ROBERT ANDERSON: If this is something that people do, I'm a people. I can do it. I matter. I count. And if it's good for you, it's good for me. When you want to have fun with something, you have fun with something.

PADMORE: At the North Omaha Music and Arts Academy, a steady stream of people eventually packed the venue. Whether listening to performances...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PADMORE: ...Sampling an assortment of colorful teas and cakes, solving a murder mystery featuring great Black minds of the Victorian era or using the opportunity to network, everyone seemed to be having fun, just like Rogers wanted.

ROGERS: I'm a little over - not overwhelmed. I'm happy. I think that the feeling here is one of joy, and it just shows that we need more of this.

PADMORE: Rogers says she's not sure if she'll put on another Steampunk Tea Party next year, but says she will do something to bring people together on this special day honoring Juneteenth. For NPR News, I'm William Padmore in Lincoln. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.