Grand Rapids prepares to celebrate Juneteenth holiday

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Several events are set to take place in West Michigan this weekend in commemoration of the Juneteenth holiday.

On June 19, 1865, the last of the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were made aware of their freedom. That was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law making the day long celebrated in Black communities a federal holiday.

“If you were looking for validation of anything, that is one of the most validating things,” said Justice 4 All founder Julius Rogers of the holiday becoming official.

Rogers is among the organizers who have been planning a Juneteenth event for several months. On Saturday, there will be live music, bounce houses, games and Black businesses on display at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in Grand Rapids for the Juneteenth 4 All Juneteenth Jam.

“The events of last year happened and that kind of exacerbated a lot of mixed bags of emotions, and I kind of wanted to establish something that would give people an opportunity and a chance to celebrate Black culture, Black experience and just kind of uplift,” Rogers said.

Rogers says there will be T-shirts for sale for S18.65 in honor of the holiday. The event is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

At Calder Plaza downtown, workers spent the morning installing an 80-foot roller rink for the first ever Roll Bounce Juneteenth event. The roller rink, which will be open Friday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., will be accompanied by live DJs, food and business vendors.

“We have always celebrated the freedoms of America but the freedoms of Black people has been long-awaited for the recognition. We’re excited that (Juneteenth) will be a federally recognized holiday in the coming years,” said Angela Nelson with the Black Impact Collaborative.

The newly formed nonprofit partnered with Cherry Health to offer on-site vaccinations at Calder Plaza this weekend. There will also be a Zumba fitness class fundraiser to support a local community member battling cancer.

“It’s important because it’s one of our priorities for the Black Impact Collaborative: health and closing the health disparities gap,” Nelson said. “So making sure that our community is vaccinated, for those who wish to get vaccinated, and then fitness. We want to make sure we’re able to connect with our mental and physical health.”

The NAACP is also putting an emphasis on health, partnering with Versiti Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health, the Kalamazoo-Muskegon Michigan Black Nurses Association, Michigan State University and Grand Rapids African American Health Institute to host a Juneteenth blood drive at the Baxter Community Center on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“We’re all happy to be seeing the end of the tunnel, somewhat, as it relates to pandemic. The pandemic was a perfect example as to why it’s important for everyone to pay attention to health but specifically the Black and brown population,” Kareem Scales with the NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids said. “Last year during COVID, African American blood donations went down by half, so 50%. We came together as a community to try and host a blood drive and increase the supply.”

The NAACP says people can show up to the community center and register on site or pre-register, which is preferred, for blood donation online.

At Dickinson Buffer Park, the West Michigan Jewels of Africa are putting on a parade and showing off traditional African music and dance. The parade begins at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. They will host an opening ceremony at 1 p.m.

“It’s bridging the tradition with the culture for us, the descendants of slaves and beyond, for this specific event,” Jewellynne Richardson with the West Michigan Jewels of Africa said.

Richardson said this holiday is about pride but also education.

“It takes one person to make a difference and that’s what this is about, reaching one person at this event who will leave with the power to make change to better the Black community,” said Richardson.

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