Juneteenth Freedom Festival ‘beyond anything we imagined’

More than 1,000 people gathered in Holland on June 17-18 to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States at events associated with the Juneteenth Freedom Festival.

Events included a soul music concert featuring Entyce at the Park Theatre on Friday night, a 20-team basketball tournament on Saturday morning, and a family-friendly festival at Kollen Park on the shores of Lake Macatawa on Saturday afternoon.
Visitors walk around the vendor booths and games in Kollen Park in Holland, Michigan while attending the I AM Academy's Juneteenth Freedom Festival, June 18, 2022.
All events were hosted by I AM Academy, a local organization that endeavors to empower African American youth and promote academic success through mentoring and enrichment activities.
“The response is beyond, beyond anything we imagined,” says Lindsay Cherry, who with her husband, Henry, founded I Am Academy. “Last year, we thought hard about having it at all (amid the pandemic). We had about 30 vendors and 500 people come out. This year, we have 80 vendors and attendance that’s well over 1,000, and people are having a really good time. I know people across the area look forward to this event.”

Different African American couples have taken turns organizing a Juneteenth celebration in Holland since the early 2000s, when Juneteenth was little known. Each year, the event seems to attract a more racially and generationally diverse crowd, as well as visitors from more neighboring communities.
Students from Holland-area schools play basketball on 13th Street while competing in the Juneteenth Jump-Off 3-on-3 basketball tournament at Third Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, June 18, 2022.
Educational significance

In June 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing June 19 as a federal holiday.

“The educational significance of this celebration is so important,” says Mercedes Watts, of Jenison, who attended with her husband, Joshua, and their sons, Arthur, 3, and Elijah, 1. Although she is African American, the Ottawa County public defender says it was only a few years ago that she learned what Juneteenth is all about.

On June 19, 1865 — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from bondage.

People across the country on Juneteenth celebrate the freedom and achievement of Blacks.

Juneteenth is recognized as the first genuine African American holiday — one observed by gathering with friends and neighbors to make music, eat, and drink in remembrance of African Americans who died dreaming of freedom, or who died to help make freedom possible.

Music and activities

The festival in Holland featured I AM Academy students dancing in the bandshell to “Union” by the Black-Eyed Peas and “This Is Me” by Kesha, from “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack. There was a pie-eating contest, an inflatable bounce house, and lots of music from many genres.

The Boys & Girls Club of Holland hosted a button-making event, and Herrick District Library was on hand to show off part of its collection of storybooks featuring African American characters and authors. Among other fun events during the festival, the Holland Fire Department was also on site to allow kids to handle firefighting equipment and hoses.

Former Holland Mayor Nancy DeBoer and her husband, Jim, also attended the Juneteenth festival.

“Kollen Park is a place everybody feels comfortable coming,” DeBoer says. “It’s exciting to see people from all different walks of life welcoming each other, enfolding each other, and growing together.”

Some vendors attended the festival to promote ways they believe will help impoverished people achieve greater degrees of freedom and prosperity.

One was Pastor Willie Watt of Lifeline Ministries, who brought an example of the 14-foot by 6-foot Conestoga Hut that he believes could be an inexpensive form of emergency housing. He’s touting a plan to develop a small village of the huts on the site of a former migrant camp on the southeastern outskirts of Holland. Ministry staff would work with people who need more time to overcome the issues that resulted in homelessness than city mission currently permits, Watt says.

The Ottawa County Health Department also pitched a tent to vaccinate festival-goers against Covid-19. Thirty vaccines were given, most falling into the category of first booster, a nurse says.


Read more articles by Kym Reinstadler.