Flint, MI —The city erupted with cheering, impassioned speeches and lots of cars honking Friday as residents gathered throughout the city to celebrate Juneteenth.
Events included a remembrance ceremony held outside the Genesee County Courthouse and the 30th annual Juneteenth Celebration at Max Brandon Park. The celebration ended with a Road to Freedom Motorcade led by E. Hill De Loney, executive director for the Community Based Organization Partners.
Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the day the last slaves were freed. President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863 with the adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation but news did not reach slaves in Texas until two years later. On Wednesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared it an official state holiday.
“It’s well documented that the slaveholders in Texas on June 19, 1865 well understood that the Emancipation Proclamation had been declared but they wanted to get one more crop, one more profit off the sweat of the human beings that they owned,” John Gleason, Genesee County Clerk/Register, said during the Juneteenth remembrance ceremony on Friday morning.
Gleason organized and hosted the ceremony where community members gathered to hear a lineup of speakers. Dr. Kent Key, director of the Office of Community Scholars and Partnerships at Michigan State University, served as keynote speaker.
The black community may be physically free, but they now face systemic racism, Kent said. “Juneteenth, that’s a partial victory. It’s not a total victory.”
Joe Massey, Grand Blanc Township trustee and Claudia Perkins-Milton, Black Trade unionist and candidate for State Representative of the 34th District, shared similar sentiments, calling for the end of racism by dismantling the institutions that support it.
“Being a young black male in America during these times of racial injustice, I am proud of who I am and proud to be part of a generation that will move the world forward. As a nation, we all have to fight the good fight, and that change starts with you,” said 15-year-old Antonio Sweeney, president of the Institute of R.H.Y.M.E.S Men of Excellence Program. Gleason ended the ceremony with closing remarks.
Friday afternoon drew a large crowd to Max Brandon Park for the 30th Annual Juneteenth Celebration. DeWaun E. Robinson, leader of the Black Lives Matter Flint Chapter, organized the event.
The political climate makes this Juneteenth Celebration uniquely important, said Johnie Franklin III, community organizer for BLM. “Black and brown people are [now] unapologetic to represent themselves. We’re in a rebellion stage.”
Several candidates in Genesee County’s upcoming election spoke at the celebration, including Domonique Clemons for county commissioner, Tim Johnson for county sheriff and Trachelle Young for prosecutor.
Other speakers included Robinson, world champion boxer Claressa Shields, Chair of the Genesee County Democratic Black Caucus Royce Stephens and Jalil X who all emphasized the importance of the black vote and economic power. The NAACP hosted a booth where residents could register to vote.
“If we wish to change our plight in this nation, we cannot lose interest. Instead, we need to keep the pressure on those whose decisions shape our lives. In order to ensure progress, we all have to show up and show out at the polls,” Stephens said. He asked the crowd to chant “show up and show out at the polls” with him.
Jalil X spoke about ending racism through black economics. “Protests are good because they bring acknowledgement, but protests don’t change people. People change in America when you have power with your dollar,” he said. He encouraged the black community to “combine” their dollars as a form of economic boycott and a means to end systemic racism.
Bishop Bernadale Jefferson gave tribute to Mrs. Kathryn Blake, who passed away due to COVID-19 in April. Blake was a veteran chair for the Flint Juneteenth committee, chair of Women in the NAACP and outspoken member of Flint Women’s Suffrage Club. Blake’s family accompanied Jefferson at the podium and several gave their own eulogies.
Jefferson held up a bottle of water and offered libations, the first for Blake, and then for anyone who lost a loved one. Crowd members shouted out the names of their family members. “George Floyd,” “Breonna Taylor,” “Philando Castile,” also rang out.
The event ended with a motorcade, drawing hundreds of participants and onlookers.