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Flint celebrated its first Juneteenth as a national holiday, but even more can be done

Video by Anthony Davis

Photos by Lisa Land and Anthony Davis

Written by Tanya Terry

Juneteenth 2021 was a rainy day in Flint, but according to Mayor Sheldon Neeley, it was another “great day God has made.”

Thousands of community members gathered for Flint Juneteenth celebrations, and Neely pointed out the Word of God says the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Dee Love-photo by Anthony Davis

Dee Love, a lifelong Flint resident, was one of several people who waited in the rain for hours for the Champions Parade to make its way to Berston Field House, where the parade was to end.

Love, who waited patiently under a large red and black umbrella, had a daughter; Jordin Love, who was dancing with Kamazing Angels Dance Factory on Juneteenth.

Dee Love also said she looked forward to the festivities that took place at Brush Park, from 4-8 p.m. that day.

Patricia “Patsy” Wheeler came from Durand to enjoy the Champions Parade, Black Wall Street (which took place Friday-Sunday) and the other festivities.

Wheeler said it was especially important to be there for the Flint Juneteenth celebration because this was the first Juneteenth that was “nationally recognized.”

“Unless we are all free, none of us are free,” Wheeler said, who is white.

Sheila Wheeler and Patricia “Patsy” Wheeler-photo by Anthony Davis

She also quoted from a novel by Ernest Hemingway:
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

(According to dictionary.com, the quote is also an expression from a sermon by John Donne. Donne says that because we are all part of mankind, one happens to one happens to all of us.)

“This is a Great Celebration, said Delphine Hooker, who had a booth for Total Life Changes health and wellness company at Black Wall Street.

Delphine Hooker, left, TLC Life Changer. Photo by Lisa Land.

“This was my first time being right in the middle of it as a vendor,” Hooker added. “I got a chance to see all the hard work that went on behind the scenes of this amazing celebration for our people to be free! The youth of Flint, MI have always been phenomenal. The youth flipped, tapped dance, helping set up and any and everything they were asked of while being respectful with grace! I am so happy and grateful to have had this opportunity to be on the inside looking out. It all was beautiful!”

Other unique businesses at Black Wall Street included the Flintstone Candle Co. LLC and Peechy Keen Purees, which makes and delivers fresh baby food and delivers it to your house, along with many, many others.

Flintstone Candle Co. LLC. Photo by Lisa Land.
Nina Simmons, Peachy Keen Purees. Photo by Lisa Land.

Claressa Shields served as grand marshal for the Champions Parade, which took Saturday during Flint’s three day long Juneteenth celebrations.

Shields said she is glad Juneteenth became a national holiday.

She also said she felt the Champions Parade was “long overdue” and that she felt she was the best person to represent Flint and Juneteenth the way she did as grand marshal.

Claressa Shields-photo by Anthony Davis

Mayor Sheldon Neeley gave Shields a proclamation from the city of Flint proclaiming June 19, 2021 Claressa Shields day in the city. Shields also received proclamations of the day from 34th District State Representative Cynthia Neeley and Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05). In addition, Mayor Sheldon Neeley said a street in the city would be named after Shields. At press time, a representative from Mayor Neeley’s office said details, such as the location of the street, were still in process and would be announced at a later date.

“We hosted the Traditional Flint Juneteenth Committee,” said Jerome Threlkeld, community engagement coordinator at Sloan Museum and Longway Planetarium.

“We hosted the celebration the first day,” Threlkeld added, who said he helped plan the celebration with the committee for at least four months.

“For me, it’s celebration, education, inspiration,” he said. “It’s about celebrating our past and embracing our future. It’s not only learning about our ancestors and the things they went through, but also realizing and harnessing the power that we have-our economic and political power-and the story of the Black community.”

On Friday the Traditional Juneteenth Committee kicked it all off with a Culture Walk, starting at the corner of Crapo and Kearsley (next to the library with Flint Schools behind and Flint Institute of Music to the side).

“It was really about education as the foundation and the library was right there for ongoing and lifelong learning-and we had the Flint Institute of Music there-for the heartbeat of our culture-music.”

The walk continued to the Flint Institute of Art and came to Sloan.

“It was about celebrating our past and making sure our history is known to ourselves and to the world.”

The walk ended at Longway Planetarium.

The walk also commemorated the lives of those who died due to COVID-19 during the pandemic.

An African Ancestral Reverence Ceremony, Juneteenth Festival Concert and Hustlefest, Storytelling Education & Conversation, Games and Juneteenth suncatcher craft and Ujamaa Vendor Fair all took place in the cultural center.

Some of the highlights included singing and the New Standard Academy Children’s Theatre doing a presentation.

Children singing as part of Flint’s Juneteenth Celebration. Photo by Lisa Land.

Saturday’s activities at Max Brandon Park included a Spoken Word Poetry Contest, City Council Meet & Greet, a community awards ceremony and much more.

DeWaun E. Robinson, Traditional Flint Juneteenth chair, said the main goals of the Traditional Flint Juneteenth Committee were to give education and knowledge, as well as background history of Juneteenth.

“We wanted to be able to facilitate that through fun, games and entertainment,” Robinson said. “All activities centered around educating.”

DeWaun E. Robinson got the audience empowered during the Flint Juneteenth Celebration. Photo by Lisa Land.

The activities educated on a variety of topics, including the Emancipation Proclamation and the contributions of African Americans in America and their contribution towards civilization.

Robinson said the committee had some deliverables and they are very satisfied with what they did and the outcome for this year, for Juneteenth 2021. He felt the young people did a phenomenal job speaking about their ancestors and elders.

The committee honored Mrs. E. Hill DeLoney, who introduced Flint to Juneteenth nearly 50 years ago, with the Matriarch of Juneteenth award and the Juneteenth Commemorative Coin. Claire McClinton was honored as Head Warrior in Charge. Reverend Freelon Threlkeld, the Buffalo Soldiers and the St. John Street Committee were also honored.

The Genesee County Commissioners honored Hill DeLoney, as well.

Mrs. E. Hill DeLoney presented Education & Conversation and received several honors during the Flint Juneteenth celebrations. Photo by Lisa Land.

The Traditional Flint Juneteenth Committee has had at least five days of activities in the past, but were more cautious this year because of planning during a pandemic.

“Our Traditional Flint Juneteenth Celebration was another success for another year,” Robinson said.

There was a Black Buckham Juneteenth Festival. Kerale C Presents Juneteenth took place at Brush Park. In addition, there was also a Gospel Festival on Sunday.

Multiple groups put on Juneteenth celebration events in Flint this year, which allowed for plenty of variety, learning and enjoyment for the community. Groups supported each other events, and joint flyers were created. The Traditional Flint Juneteenth Committee created a collaborative calendar.

According to Robinson, the Traditional Flint Juneteenth Committee reached out to the other groups, including the city, and more collaboration between the groups is possible for next year’s Juneteenth celebrations.

“Anytime we all get together, we all want to do it in a collaborative effort. When we come together we can be more impactful and powerful. Our success depends on us unifying together.”

Robinson also said he understands why Juneteenth was made a national holiday and is grateful and happy for this, but said voting rights are still being attacked and police brutality is still taking place in urban communities.

“Even with Juneteenth being made a national holiday, we’ve got a lot of work to do to change policy and hold accountability to obtain true power.”

Robinson said the holiday was “symbolic,” but that Blacks in this county especially need to obtain economic power, which would lead to more power politically.

“We want to do what’s necessary to change the systems and structures that continue to oppress African Americans in this country.”

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