HOLLAND, Michigan (WZZM) -- The 14th Annual Juneteenth Celebration kicked off in Holland Thursday. The three-day event commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth, also known as the African-American Emancipation Day, is nationally observed on June 19th. It was on that date in 1865 that slaves in Texas learned that President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior.
Union soldiers landed in Galveston with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were free. Since then, festivals are held, nationally, each year to celebrate freedom and emphasize education and achievement.
"Juneteenth is important because it is a time for us to celebrate together. It is a time for us to commemorate together. And, it is a time for us to bring families together," said Kim Harris, the director of entertainment for the Holland celebration. "It allows us to continue to move forward and collaborate on issues surrounding our Black American history."
The event starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 19th with the "A Night In the Black History Museum" play at the Holland Civic Theatre, featuring area teens. On Friday, June 20th there will be a pageant and fashion show where the annual Juneteenth king and queen will be crowned. That will be held at 6 p.m. at the Western Theological Seminary on 13th street.
The main event takes place Saturday, June 21th from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The free festival, held at Kollen Park, will feature local food and merchandise vendors, bounce houses for children, a variety of entertainment including musical guests and other performances.
"We are excited that we have for our entertainment, featured guest Chandra Currelley," said Harris. "She is coming in from Atlanta and we are so excited to have her."
Currelley is an award winning singer and actress who is known for her roles in several Tyler Perry films.
Another special guest is keynote speaker Keynote, Dr. Khalifa Muhammad, a professor with Michigan State University. Dr. Muhammad will talk about building community.
"We are going to have a lot of fun. There is going to be pie eating contests. There is going to be bouncy balls. There will be relay races. There is going to be so much activity out there that I believe the children are going to be so excited they are participating in the festivities," said Harris.
This year festival organizers will also hold the first ever Health Fair in conjunction with the festival. Local health agencies and Holland Hospital will provide information, and some testing, on preventative diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Representatives with the Red Project will be handing out literature and prophylactics to help reduce the occurrence of HIV/AIDS in the community.