GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., (WOOD) — After weeks of unrest across the nation, Grand Rapids’ black community is using the Juneteenth holiday as a time to heal.
The Emancipation Proclamation, the official document that abolished slavery, was signed in 1862 — but many plantations were still operating until June 19, 1865, when the news finally reached everywhere and the last slaves were freed. That day is now referred to as Juneteenth and considered the independence day for African Americans.
“People understand that there was slavery, there was an Emancipation Proclamation but there’s not a whole lot of education about that Reconstruction era,” Denavvia Mojet, who organized a Juneteeth event in Grand Rapids, said. “But it was a huge turning point for people of color. It was a transition for us to be seen as human and really at our start point to kind of feel like we were free and independent.”
Mojet said that after taking in a number of national headlines involving the mistreatment and killing of black people, she’s hoping the holiday will serve as a much-needed recharge for many.
“It takes its toll on our community at large and especially on the black community. I don’t think human beings were designed to live in perpetual anger and fear and it’s just not healthy,” Mojet said.
Mojet created a Facebook page where people can find a list of events happening throughout Michigan. So far, various organizers are hosting a statewide virtual party, a fireworks show and a drive-by parade. There are also festivals at Martin Luther King Park and Dickinson Park.
“We come with the red, black, green and the red, black, green and gold to inspire, teach and educate. We are educational entertainers at its best,’ said Jewellynne Richardson, who is organizing the Freedom Festival at Dickinson Park.
Organizers say while the central focus of Juneteenth is celebrating blackness, they say it’s important that other races also learn about black history and culture as the nation works toward a better future.
“I think we need to be intentional as allies. Our white, brown, yellow, Latinx friends, all of our allies, our full spectrum of humans need to be intentional about educating our children about why we value the life and contribution of people of color,” Mojet said.
Organizers say several of the events overlap due to social distancing orders that prohibit gatherings over 100 people. Masks will be required.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proclaimed June 19 as Juneteeth Celebration Day across the state.
A list of weekend events in Grand Rapids can be found below.
Friday, June 19:
- Power to the People 616: A virtual Juneteenth celebration — 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. online.
- Culture Freedom: A Juneteenth Festival — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Martin Luther King Parl
- Freedom Festival — 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Dickinson Buffer Park
- Juneteenth Community Drive-By Parade — 2:30 p.m. at the Great Giant Supermarket in Grand Rapids
- Unapologetically Black Cultural Festival — 4 p.m. at Martin Luther King Park
Saturday, June 20:
- Celebrate Freedom: Juneteenth Celebration — 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Garfield Park
***Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Freedom Festival is happening Saturday. That’s inaccurate. The festival is happening on Friday. We regret the error.