Juneteenth in Grand Rapids: "I am just glad to see that it is catching on."
Eastern Avenue in Grand Rapids was blocked off Monday afternoon for a parade to celebrate America’s newest holiday and its oldest declared value: freedom.
“We’re going to party like it’s the Fourth of July because it is the Fourth of July for us,” said Robert S. Womack, a radio DJ and former Kent County commissioner, kicking off the city’s Juneteenth Freedom Parade and Celebration.
Juneteenth, declared a federal holiday in 2021, marks the day in 1865 when soldiers from the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed enslaved Black people that they were now free.
The holiday has been celebrated in the Black community for more than a century, but it didn’t become a federal holiday until two years ago. This year, the Michigan Legislature voted to make it a state holiday as well, soon guaranteeing Juneteenth as a paid day off for more workers.
“We have come a long way and so it feels good to be able to represent our freedom and the day things changed for us,” said Latrice Richardson, who led the parade, waving the blue and red Juneteenth flag.
Richardson’s aunt, Jewelynne Richardson, has organized a Juneteenth event in Grand Rapids — known as the Dickinson Park Dundunba — for the past six years, before it was a federal holiday.
“I used to be out here with just 10 of us,” Richardson said Monday.
But each year, she said, the event has grown. Now, the parade and celebration in Dickinson Park was just one of several Juneteenth events in Grand Rapids — and one of dozens statewide.
“I feel so excited,” Richardson said. “I feel like there’s hope in the future. This is not about me, Mama Jewel, this is about our next generation to see the youth out here, for them to be able to learn about their culture, I am just glad to see that it is catching on.”