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Grand Rapids celebrates Juneteenth with parade, gathering

Dickinson Park was full of music, food, clothing and community members coming together to celebrate Black liberation.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids' Dickinson Park came to life with the sound of drums Sunday afternoon as community members gathered to celebrate Juneteenth.

The holiday commemorates the news of freedom reaching the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas in 1865. 

The day began with a parade of multiple generations drumming, waving flags and chanting "We're Black and we're proud, we'll say it out loud."

Following the parade, a ceremonial shofar was blown as the signal to gather and begin. A ceremony of libation, watering the plants in the name of ancestors was then conducted by the oldest person in attendance.

Once the opening was through, the crowd was free to visit the vendors that spanned the park, which included everything from an ice cream truck, clothing sales, food, jewelry and much more. 

"We come out to educate the community and sell our coloring book which features Black and brown people with autism," said Zenia Bates, executive director of Compassionate Awareness Autism Center. She was running her booth alongside her son, Evan, who is the subject of that coloring book

It's the fourth Juneteenth Bates has attended as a vendor. She wants to spread positivity and awareness for children and adults on the Autism spectrum, and she says representation is a crucial piece of that, especially in books and other formative media for children. 

"The Black community, to see us representing ourselves in excellence is important," she said. "The younger generation coming up, they have a role model to look at, something to aspire to."

Another notable feature of the event were dozens of portraits lining the sidewalk, showing the faces of community members lost to gun violence.

"All of these people whose lives were taken brought joy to their family, brought joy to the community," said Shante Paul. 

Paul's godson Isiah is a face in one of the portraits — she said he was shot and killed over a pair of glasses. 

"We don’t want to sweep it under the rug, we want to remind our youth that we don’t want this for your life. We want you to put the guns down, we want you to engage and we want to keep you here."

Especially as the liberation holiday falls on the same day as Father's Day, attendees say the celebration is meant to unite not just the Black community, but the Grand Rapids community as a whole.

"We want to remind people that Grand Rapids, Michigan is a family oriented city," Paul said. "By doing events like Juneteenth it brings us out of our homes, out of our comfort zones and into other zones and then we’re coming together."

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