Juneteenth events honor local Black history and culture


Juneteenth, a national holiday since 2021 and a state holiday in Michigan since 2020, honors the official end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, hundreds of thousands of African American slaves in Texas were granted their freedom, thanks to an order from Major General Gordon Granger. Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to free its enslaved population — the Civil War had ended two months earlier, and Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.

In recognition of this prominent day in American history, towns, cities and organizations throughout the country put on festivals, seminars and other events honoring Black history and culture. Locally, the longest-running event we have today is the Lansing Juneteenth Celebration, which was founded in 1993. After Juneteenth was declared a national holiday, other organizations and towns began to follow suit with annual celebrations, such as 517 Juneteenth Weekend in REO Town, Michigan State University’s Juneteenth Celebration and the Meridian Freedom Fest, which all began in 2021.

These groups are offering a mix of events this year, from a 5K and film screenings to concerts, a parade and vendor and resource fairs, all celebrating and highlighting the Black community. To learn more and decide how to spend your weekend, read on.


Lansing Juneteenth Celebration

June 15-17

The Lansing Juneteenth Celebration is commemorating its 30th anniversary with a lineup of big events and even bigger speakers and performers.

The first Lansing Juneteenth Celebrations were on the grounds of Mask Memorial CME Church. The organizers’ goal was to ensure the food, sports, speakers and activities presented at the events were representative of the first Juneteenth celebrations in 1865. Gordon Haskins, the driving force behind the first event in 1993, was a longtime member of the church. He envisioned a celebration of Juneteenth in Lansing that would mirror festivities he had attended in Douglasville, Texas, before moving to Michigan.

As the festival grew larger, the committee began hosting events at local parks — first at Adado Riverfront Park, then at Benjamin Davis Park, and then at St. Joseph Park, where it’s still held today.

The festival also began hosting its annual Essay/Scholarship Program, which awards middle and high school students for researching and writing about the history of Juneteenth. This year, the winning students will be announced and recognized at the 2023 Capital City Kickoff Ceremony, taking place 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday (June 15) at Lansing Community College’s Gannon Building. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kyra Harris Bolden will deliver a keynote speech, and the ceremony will include other speakers and performers as well.

The Run/Walk/Roll 5K, kicking off 8:30 a.m. Saturday (June 16) at J.W. Sexton High School, allows community members to run, walk or roll wheelchairs and strollers throughout Lansing’s westside neighborhood. Registration is $35, and you can reserve your spot by following the link at lansingjuneteenthcelebration.org.

Saturday afternoon, the annual African American Parade begins at Sexton High School and the job and health fairs begin at St. Joseph Park, both at 11. The Juneteenth Freedom Festival, featuring performances by jazz flutist and radio personality Alexander Zonjic, jazz keyboardist James Lloyd, gospel rapper Joe Brown and saxophonist Kasan Belgrave, kicks off at noon. There will also be merchants, food vendors, children’s activities and more.

For a full schedule of events, check out the Lansing Juneteenth Celebration ad on page 3 or visit lansingjuneteenthcelebration.org.


517 Juneteenth Weekend 

June 15-18

Now in its third year, 517 Juneteenth Weekend gives mid-Michigan residents the opportunity to celebrate Black culture, expression and experiences with live music, mixers, seminars and more.

The weekend kicks off 6 p.m. Thursday (June 15) at the Cadillac Room with a seminar titled “Black History. Black Future. Leveraging Culture for Economic Growth.” The event will explore the intersections between entrepreneurship, education, financial literacy and community investment. 

Jaz Jackson, owner of JSCULPT Fitness, will give the keynote speech. She’ll share how she leveraged her culture as a Black woman to create a multi-million-dollar fitness brand that focuses on Black and brown women.

A panel discussion on culture and economic growth will follow, featuring Tony Willis, chief equity development officer for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership; Dwayne Powell Jr., a vice president of community development at PNC Bank; and Rashida Harrison, an assistant professor of social relations and policy at Michigan State University.

A mixer with music, drinks and food will cap the evening at 8 p.m.

Enjoy a free ice cream social 4 to 6 p.m. Friday (June 16) at the corner of South Washington Avenue and South Street. The event is sponsored by Milk Means More, with cold treats courtesy of Sweet Encounter Bakery & Cafe, a local Black-owned business. All of the Above Hip-Hop Academy will DJ the event and lead breakdancing sessions. For children ages 0 to 5, PNC Bank’s Mobile Learning Adventure will offer a craft area, a storytelling tree, giveaways, a “When I Grow Up” photo station and more. For elementary-school-aged children, Impression 5 Science Center will host hands-on experiments, and the Kidz Zone will offer inflatables and games. 

Saturday (June 17) features the 517 Juneteenth Festival, 3:30 to 10 p.m. on South Washington Avenue between South Street and Elm Street in REO Town, which typically brings in thousands of guests. Nationally and internationally recognized Black artists of all genres will perform, including Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Kenyon Dixon, Grammy-winning musician and producer Gwen Bunn, jazz musician Brandon Rose and gospel group The Singletons. 

More than 60 Black-owned-business vendors will line the streets, a food court will offer meals from local Black-owned food trucks and restaurants, and the Kidz Zone and PNC Mobile Learning Adventure will allow children to take part in the fun as well.

Finally, the weekend wraps up with a Father’s Day Brunch and Jazz event 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday (June 18) at the Cadillac Room. The brunch is catered by Bishop’s Kitchen, featuring fried chicken and waffles, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, French toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, fruit and more. Attendees can sip mimosas while enjoying jazz music by Trilogy Band.


MSU Juneteenth Celebration

June 15-16

According to the Smithsonian Institution, Afrofuturism “expresses notions of Black identity, agency and freedom through creative works and activism that envision liberated futures for Black life.” For some examples of Afrofuturism at work, listen to the music of Janelle Monae or take a look at Marvel’s “Black Panther” films.

Michigan State University English Professor Julian Chambliss discussed Afrofuturism with experts around the country, culminating in a new Public Broadcasting Service documentary, “Afrofantastic: The Transformative World of Afrofuturism.” The school will host a screening of the film, along with a Q&A, 7 p.m. Thursday (June 15) at the College of Arts and Sciences, Room 145. Panelists include Chambliss; Teresa Goforth, director of exhibitions at the MSU Museum; Olivia Furman, a non-binary womanist, artist, educator and researcher; and Ytasha L. Womack, an author, filmmaker, dancer and independent scholar who is featured in the documentary. 

“The world of ‘Afrofantastic’ is one where thinkers, artists and community members are coming together to create a compelling new vision of the future — one that embraces Black people and Black culture in a way that previously did not happen,” Chambliss said.

The following day (June 16), MSU will host its 3rd annual Juneteenth Celebration from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Breslin Student Events Center. This year’s theme is “158 Years Later: Celebrating Progress,” focusing on the advancements and achievements the Black community has made throughout the country since 1865.

Past MSU Juneteenth Celebrations have been more formal and speaker-based, but this year will be performance-based and will also include a Black Wall Street Vendor Fair, photos with Sparty, giveaways and a soul food dinner provided by MSU’s Kellogg Catering and Sweet Encounter Bakery & Cafe.

The event will be hosted by violinist Rodney Page and will feature performances by vocalist GeDeane Graham, gospel singer Gregory D and Co. and the MSU Jazz Quintet. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP at inclusion.msu.edu.


Meridian Freedom Fest 

June 16-18

In 2021, Meridian Township held its first Juneteenth celebration, the Meridian Business Freedom Fest. Residents were invited to hunt for more than 30 gift cards to local businesses hidden around the township.

“The goal for Meridian Township’s Juneteenth celebration was to come up with an age-friendly, inclusive community activity that sparks the conversation around Juneteenth, our nation’s past and our pursuit to create space for everyone. The business community came out in huge support of this holiday, many of those businesses being Black business owners,” said Amber Clark, the township’s Neighborhoods and Economic Development director.

The success of the first event inspired the township to continue holding an annual Freedom Fest, though they have grown over the past two years into lengthier festivals that feature a variety of community events. 

This year, the festival kicked off with a free screening of “The Wiz” on June 9. It will host another free movie screening, “Queen of Katwe,” a biographical drama about a young Ugandan girl who learns to play chess, 9 p.m. Friday (June 16) at the Meridian Historical Village. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets to sit on.

The township will hold its inaugural Blues & Jazz Festival, featuring performances by Mixed Flavors, Deacon Earl, The Sound, Tony Thompson & Friends and more, 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday (June 17) at Lake Lansing Park South. The free event will also offer food and beverages for purchase, small-business vendors, yard games and more.

The Freedom Fest will end with a Spiritual Historical Review 2 p.m. Sunday (June 18) at the Meridian Historical Village Chapel. Pastor Marvin Williams of Trinity Church on Dunckel Road will discuss how spirituality has “led to the construction of modern Black excellence” as well as how spirituality has also been used to divide Black communities.

“In support of the traditional ‘Sunday service’ and recognizing the diverse faiths of the community, the intent of this historical review is to demonstrate how tradition can work to the advantage of a community,” the website reads.

Attendees are invited to wear their “Sunday best,” such as hats, gloves and other formal attire, as a nod of respect to traditional Black church services. Following the one-hour presentation, dinner and drinks will be served at the Marketplace on the Green pavilion.


Delta Township Juneteenth events

June 15, 20, 27

Delta Township will celebrate Juneteenth with three separate events throughout the month.

The Black History 101 Mobile Museum will make a stop at the Delta Township District Library 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday (June 15). Founded by Khalid el-Hakim, an educator and activist, it contains more than 10,000 original pieces of Black memorabilia from the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to today.

Tuesday’s (June 20) Music in the Park concert, 5 to 9 p.m. at Sharp Park, will feature music by Brotha Earth, a five-piece band that includes three former touring members of the legendary Motown band Rare Earth. Tony Thompson will open the show. There will also be family-friendly activities and games and food available for purchase from The Smoke N’ Pig BBQ’s food truck.

Finally, the June 27 Music in the Park concert, 7 to 9 p.m. at Sharp Park, will feature Mixed Flavors, a local blues/R&B/soul group. Singer-songwriter Kanin Wren will open the show.


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