Juneteenth — it’s the newest federal holiday and communities in Michigan and across the nation are finding ways to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and the end of slavery.
Since the inaugural holiday was signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021, several communities have been organizing cookouts, parades, block parties and more to celebrate the holiday. New to the community this year was Detroit’s Northwestern High School parade, organized by the school’s academic interventionist Alex Nichols.
The parade joins the Highland Park Juneteenth parade that’s been going on for a few years now, and it’s likely others will follow suit. Community organizers expect their traditions will continue to grow and new events and opportunities will be formed each year.
One Detroit senior producer Bill Kubota visited the Northwestern High School parade on June 19th for the federal observance of Juneteenth. Plus, he talks with administrators and students from the high school about what Juneteenth means to them and how people can learn more about it.
Alex Nichols, Academic Interventionist, Northwestern High School, Detroit: I learned about Juneteenth when I was 19 and I was an undergrad then. When I come get the fourth hour people, I want you to be there.
Bill Kubota, Senior Producer, One Detroit: Alex Nichols works at Detroit’s Northwestern High School. She’s an organizer with Detroit’s Juneteenth Parade. It’s new this year.
Alex Nichols: I knew it was something I wanted to keep celebrating, but I moved around a lot and I didn’t really seek any activities out until President Biden made the move, as soon as he got in office, to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. So it piqued my interest once it became a federal holiday. Thank you so much for being here this morning. We couldn’t do it without you.
Mary Sheffield, Detroit City Council President, District 5: We are celebrating what our ancestors have achieved, the sweat, the sacrifices that they’ve made for us to be here, but also understanding that there are still disparities that exist today.
Bill Kubota: Detroit loves a parade. Thanksgiving, Saint Patrick’s Day, traditions. Perhaps now it’s time to include Juneteenth.
Alex Nichols: I just know parades coming up in my life and this was something I thought I may endeavor to recreate because of how much joy you brought me in my youth. And knowing that the community comes out to support… Juneteenth is an example of that. Why not have a parade for Juneteenth?
Deborah Jenkins, Deputy Exec. Dir. High School Transformation, Detroit Public Schools Community District: Juneteenth is about unifying the community, and I think that’s the best way we can say it.
Lavell Keys, 9th Grade, Northwestern High School: It’s an important holiday to remember an important time in history on how slaves were freed.
Alex Nichols: But today we’ve got Juneteenth, and so we’re celebrating the fact that we have the option to collectively celebrate on June 19th each year. And the first Juneteenth celebrations have been going on since the late 1800s.
Bill Kubota: The Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, January 1863, meant freedom for most slaves, but not some in Texas. Not until June 19th, 1865. That’s Juneteenth.
Lamari Smith, 11th Grade, Northwestern High School: A lot of people, even though they told them that they were free, a lot of people were scared because they thought they were going to get hung. So it made them stay on the plantations even though they were free.
Mikenzi Byrd, 9th Grade, Northwestern High School: So they kept them for two and a half years.
Alex Nichols: Kept them enslaved in bondage for two and a half years.
Shayla Thompson, 11th Grade, Northwestern High School: It was this ridiculous what they did. Like, why would you do that?
Alex Nichols: All you guys, maybe 13, maybe 14. This is recent history for you. So all of this stuff like, this doesn’t apply to me. It applies to you.
Bill Kubota: President Biden’s holiday-making signature. History. Something so many of us didn’t know. History some worry may be skipped over and forgotten in some schools.
Alex Nichols: It’s much more important now that we’re having this. This is something that we need to carry on and they need to be educated so they can take this mantle and move forward with it when the time comes. May not be right here, but it’ll be wherever they are. All hands should be up. If you’re in this room, you’re getting your training hours today.
Bill Kubota: These students, in Juneteenth training to be ambassadors to spread the word about the holiday.
Alex Nichols: They learn about history and also, they learn about being in the community, giving back to the community, volunteering.
Bill Kubota: Juneteenth for them, a paid position of sorts. Southwest Solutions providing guidance as they enter the workplace.
Alex Nichols: Anything you want to do? We are here to help with that career.
Bill Kubota: The parade east down West Grand Boulevard, then north on Rosa Parks. About a mile. Northwestern and Central High School representatives walking together, commemorating a summer holiday. There’s food and fun, but for students, the mission is to make this day different.
Kimberly Rogers, Principal, Northwestern High School: They are aware of July 4th, Independence Day, but from a historical standpoint, Juneteenth has not been taught. And so this was our opportunity to teach them the meaning behind Juneteenth, but also an opportunity for them to come into the community and celebrate one another.
Jameson Smith, Assistant Principal, Northwestern High School: It’s becoming more than just a cookout. It’s more than just sitting around and laughing and joking. It is an opportunity to begin a conversation so people can learn about themselves and the people that built this country.
Alex Nichols: In my journey and learning about Juneteenth, I learned that Buffalo, the city of New York, has… They’re going on their 40th year of its Juneteenth celebration. So I started reading about why they do it and why it continues to be such a strong program is because of the programming that they offer.
Bill Kubota: In Buffalo, Juneteenth is really big. Mayor Byron Brown and New York Governor Kathy Hochul in their parade. Milwaukee. Philadelphia. Galveston, Texas. Juneteenth programs, big there too. Detroit’s parade planners are thinking ahead.
Alex Nichols: Next year, I want to talk about the Crown Act and how African Americans have been discriminated against for wearing their natural hair to work. And this is a part of Juneteenth. This is part of the Juneteenth training.
Bill Kubota: The Crown Act, more recent history signed into law this month by Michigan’s governor.
Alex Nichols: That you could be accepted as you are, for who you are, and enjoy the same freedoms as all folks.
Jameson Smith: Thanks to Juneteenth, maybe this is an opportunity for these students to not only just watch TikTok for the fun stuff, but also begin to pay attention to things that will affect them in the future. And so hopefully they’ll be prepared. And I’m going to use it and I have been using it as an opportunity to guide our students to look within so they can determine who they actually are, which takes a lot of work. You can do it in a celebratory way. It can be done, but just a cookout isn’t enough.
Shanie D, Comedian: Thank you for the red, the black, and the green. Did I mention we are free? Free to change your mind. Free to go almost anywhere, any time. You are free to break the chains. I’m not sure you understand. The war is over. Happy Juneteenth. I love y’all. Thank you so much.
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