'Virtual' and live events are planned to celebrate Juneteenth in Kalamazoo

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

One of the most significant days in U.S. History for African-Americans as well as the nation is about to be celebrated in Kalamazoo -- online, in-person, and in song.

Juneteenth, -- the word-merger of June and nineteenth – is to be celebrated Friday, June 19, by African-Americans with eyes toward supporting the efforts of black entrepreneurs and artists.
The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is partnering with Soul Artistry LLC to host a live digital event, “Juneteenth: Celebration of Freedom,” from 1 to 5 p.m. to commemorate the history of Juneteenth. Artists will paint murals in downtown Kalamazoo and in the Vine Neighborhood. The importance of Juneteenth will be discussed online. And a jazz trio will live stream a performance Friday to honor the occasion.

June 19, 1865, was the day that Union Gen. Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that ended slavery for anyone who had previously been enslaved. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln nearly two and a half years earlier (on Sept. 22, 1862) and was effective Jan. 1, 1863, freedom was slow coming to Texas, which was the most remote of the slave states. So enforcement of the proclamation was inconsistent there.

“Neither Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, nor Gen. Gordon Granger’s reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to the enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth), freed us from slavery,” Charles Barron wrote in a 2014 article in the Amsterdam News in New York. “It was enslaved Africans and so-called ‘free’ Africans, who answered the call of Frederick Douglass and picked up arms, joined the Union Army and went from plantation to plantation, courageously and successfully engaging in armed struggle against their European enslavers and the Confederate Army, freeing their enslaved brothers and sisters.” Since then, the occasion has been celebrated with family gatherings, picnics, parades, barbecues, and all sorts of outdoor gatherings.

With ongoing protests and civil unrest surrounding police shootings of African-American men in the background, attention to the liberation celebration is expected to be in sharper focus than in past years.

Music, poetry, and dance

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum building remains closed in June, but it will help host a Juneteenth celebration that brings the community together on Friday to visit the Soul Artistry LLC Facebook page.

According to information provided by Yolonda Lavender, chief executive officer of Soul Artistry LLC, the event will feature music, poetry, dance, visual art, and history from some of Kalamazoo’s prominent black presenters.

Soul Artistry specializes in experience-curating, artistry development, nonprofit consulting, and self-care consulting. Lavender is a highly-regarded singer, song-writer, recording artist, and performer who was formerly executive director of the Back Arts & Cultural Center of Kalamazoo.

Lavender is expected to perform in the digital celebration as well as:

• DJ Conscious, an up-and-coming DJ who mixes reggae, funk, hip hop, and R&B. He has opened performances for such artists as Erykah Badu and Raekwon.

• Tyree Broadway, a self-taught artist who has been making creative works to inspire children and others since he was a child himself.

• Kandace “DC” Lavender, an educator, poet, vocalist, hip-hop lyricist, and Michigan State University doctoral student who has opened for such artists as J. Cole, Talib Kweli, Nas, Damien Marley, OutKast, and The Roots.

• Heather Mitchell, an African Diasporic Dance performer for more than 10 years. A teaching artist with Education for the Arts, her work also includes choreography at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and the Civic Theater.

• Shaquona Espinoza, a painter, and black-and-white photographer, Espinoza is attending Western Michigan University and is studying social work. In 2019, she began melding art and social justice.

• Dana M. Hudson, a powerful speaker known on stage as Great Dane, is considered a warrior whose words pack a passionate punch. She has been described as an unapologetically black, queer, and hood feminist.
• Maya James is a Kalamazoo artist whose work looks to transcend the call for LGBTQIA+ rights and the need to end racism, domestic abuse, and the concept of what it means to be a woman.
A community-wide discussion

Another Juneteenth event is set for Thursday, June 18. A special live streaming event will begin at noon and will feature members of the community discussing as part of the TRHT Healing Project the importance of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. 

The event is a partnership of Rootead, Soul Artistry LLC, and the Kalamazoo State Theatre and members of the Kalamazoo community in the discussion. The discussion will be followed by an online movement piece of expression from the youth of Rootead and spoken word by Soul Artistry. 

The TRHT Kalamazoo Virtual Healing Project was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as a way to continue to create and deepen relationships, share resources, and support each other collectively during this crisis. Many have recognized this time as an opportunity to do personal, interpersonal, and societal healing work, and the moment asks us to reflect on what transformations need to happen to overcome current challenges and create the future we want to see.

For more information visit here and here.

Artists are set to produce murals

On Friday, Kalamazoo will join the cities of New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Hollywood, Dallas, Denver, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Flint, Jackson, and others in having local artists create a Black Lives Matter street mural.

Led by artist Gerald King and starting at 8 a.m., local artists will paint on South Rose Street in downtown Kalamazoo, between Lovell and South streets, adjacent to the Kalamazoo Public Library. That portion of Rose Street is to be closed through 4 p.m. 

King is known for various other artworks, including his mural “Memories of The Eastside” at 1616 E. Main St.

Also on Friday, Kalamazoo artist Maya James will create a mural depicting 72 people who have been victims of police brutality or killed while speaking up for civil rights. It will be created on the western wall of the Vine Neighborhood Association offices, 814 S. Westnedge Ave., during a Juneteenth block party there. The event is set for 3 to 8:30 p.m. in the parking lots adjacent to the offices. It is being hosted by James along with local activists YC Custard and Willie Riddle Jr.

“It started out being something that we thought would be about 20 people and a grill, celebrating Juneteenth,” says Riddle, a music producer who is organizing the gathering. “But then it blew up into more than 200 people committed to coming and more than a thousand saying they are interested.”

The commitments and interest were shown on Riddle’s online platforms.

With ongoing wide scale interest in social justice, he says the event is now planned to be a celebration of unity.

James’ 8-by-16-foot mural is to be created during the block party, which will feature various performers associated with Riddle’s Kalamazoo-based record label, Only The Team Entertainment. They include hip hop artists 62 Gifted, Zo, Shaggy D, and Relly Boy as well as singers Cass G, Butchie Classic, and Sasha. DJ Prodigy will spin records. Teresa's Kitchen food truck is expected to be on hand as well as cheesecake maker Huey D Goodies. Independent art sellers are also expected to sell their wares,

The event will encourage social distancing and other anti-COVID-19 measures. Face masks and hand sanitizer are to be provided to those without them. Riddle said there will also be a first-aid station.
Sharing a musical experience

Local pianist Rufus Ferguson and his trio will do a live stream jazz performance at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 19, from the Wellspring Theater in Kalamazoo.

The event is being sponsored by The Gilmore (the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival) to honor the significance of Juneteenth.

“Music can have a tremendous impact, especially when it is a shared experience,” Gilmore Director Pierre van der Westhuizen says in a press release. “We hope the performance inspires listeners to celebrate African-American history, culture, and achievements.”

A graduate of Western Michigan University, Ferguson is an experienced performer, arranger, composer, and teacher who performed with his nine-piece ensemble at the 2018 Gilmore Keyboard Festival. According to The Gilmore, he began studying classical piano at the age of 5 and transitioned to jazz at age 13.
Ferguson will perform Friday with saxophonist Seth Ebersole bassist John Hébert. The performance may be accessed via The Gilmore website, the YouTube channel or via its Facebook page.
The performance can be found here:  GILMORE WEBSITE,  YOUTUBE, and here FACEBOOK.
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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.