Deveta Gardner was bent over, explaining the significance of Juneteenth to her 4-year-old great-nephew Dorian and her 6-year-old great-niece Zamaree before she noticed.
“I wanted my niece and nephew who are little black children to always know that their lives matter and that their lives shouldn’t just matter to their family members,” says Gardner, who had stooped down to child-level in the middle of Rose Street on Friday afternoon. “Their lives are important – just as anybody else’s … They should be proud of the color of their skin.”
The children were repeatedly saying peace and love when Gardner looked up to see the faces of more than a few onlookers, listening carefully to her message, delivered over the just-completed Black Lives Matter mural on Rose Street, between Lovell and South streets.
Deveta Gardner talks to her great-nephew Dorian, 4, and her great-niece Zamaree, 6, about love, peace and their lives.
“We were having a conversation about how love and peace are significant and important,” says Gardner. “When people don’t have an inner peace, they have a difficult time showing love.”
Gardner, who is acting director of career development and academic success at Western Michigan University, was one of hundreds of area people to visit the mural just outside the Kalamazoo Public Library, along with speakers, dancers, and onlookers who helped celebrate Juneteenth.
Sometimes called “Freedom Day,” Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the last enslaved African-Americans were officially freed in the United States. An official notice by the U.S. government, as read by Union Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, marked the occasion. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln more than two years earlier (on Sept. 22, 1862), freedom was slow coming to remote areas of the country. Texas was considered the most remote of the 11 slave states and enforcement of the proclamation was spotty there.
That changed with the liberation of any remaining enslaved people in 1865.
In the creation of Kalamazoo’s colorful Black Lives Matter mural, local artists were led by Gerald King, starting at 8 a.m. Friday and working well into the afternoon.
Adults and children were involved in the celebration, along with those who consider themselves activists and those who have considered themselves onlookers to what has become a nationwide call to end racial injustice.
All photos by Fran Dwight