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Juneteenth celebrations bring together Grand Rapids residents and city officials

Men playing drums
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Men playing drums at Dickinson Park in Grand Rapids for the city's Juneteenth celebration

Residents and city officials in Grand Rapids came together Wednesday to celebrate Juneteenth.

Dickinson Buffer Park in Grand Rapids was full of kids running across the grass, tents with Pan-African flags and bracelets, and older residents sitting and laughing with their neighbors.  

June 19 – or Juneteenth – is the day the last enslaved black people in Texas were finally freed in 1865. This was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which guaranteed all slaves would be free.

"We finally realized what was promised, and still today some would argue we still haven't fully realized that yet," - Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington

Dr. Rhae-Ann Booker, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, was the emcee for the city’s Juneteenth celebration. She says this holiday is important to remind the country where we’ve come from.

“To kind of take us back to that context, so that we never forget, and with not forgetting, hopefully, never repeat it,” Booker said.

Booker says there is still work to be done before black people in America are truly free.

Mark Washington, Grand Rapids’ City Manager, was also in the park to celebrate what some Americans call Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.

“We finally realized what was promised, and still today some would argue we still haven’t fully realized that yet,” Washington said. 

Pan-African flags and wooden art
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Pan-African flags and wooden art

Grand Rapids was just one of many cities across the state and country to celebrate Juneteenth. Some of these celebrations include a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, music and acknowledgement of community members who have recently passed.

Jewellynne Richardson, a Grand Rapids resident, says it’s a day where she calls on her ancestors to celebrate with her.

“To come and bless this day to be with us one such a great occasion for us to come together as a group of people, as a group of dark people, as African-American people on a holiday that we created in spite of everything we’ve been under,” Richardson said.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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