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New Juneteenth Festival Comes To Lansing's REO Town

logo for the festival, a black circle contains the text, "Juneteenth Festival '21" Inside the circle is the word, "Juneteenth" in orange letters, there's an illustration of a fist and then another "'21" in a circle
Juneteenth Festival
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The free festival takes place June 19 in Lansing's REO Town and features all Black performers and vendors.

This year, a new Juneteenth Festival is coming to REO Town in Lansing.

The annual celebration on June 19 commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Mariah McClain, one of the coordinators of the event.

Interview Highlights

On Why She Decided To Create This Festival Along With Her Fellow Coordinators

Juneteenth and diversity, equity and inclusion has been a topic that has been raised after the death of George Floyd. But of course, if you are a person of color, right, George Floyd was not the breaking point. We've had several different touchpoints where we needed to just create a space for ourselves, right, for Black folks, specifically, especially in Lansing.

On What Should Festival Visitors Expect

We want to make sure that everyone feels included, whether that's the LGBTQ community, whether that's the Black Diaspora, you know. It's not just African Americans here celebrating on Juneteenth, right? It's Caribbean folks. It's people from different countries. And we have artists. We have live performances, and it's a variety of different genres, which we appreciate. And then we have food vendors that are only Black-owned businesses. And we also have nonprofits that we decided to lift up like Mikey 23 Foundation.

On What Celebrating Juneteenth Means To Her

It's just a reminder that freedom did not come during the Fourth of July, for one, right, for a lot of people. Juneteenth is a celebration of Black future, Black past, what we have to look forward to, where we currently made it to the present and looking back at where we've came from.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Tomorrow is Juneteenth. It’s an annual celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

This year, a new Juneteenth Festival is coming to REO Town in Lansing. Mariah McClain is one of the coordinators of the event, and she joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Mariah McClain: Thanks for having me.

Saliby: Can you tell me why you and your co-coordinators decided to create this festival this year?

McClain: Juneteenth and diversity, equity and inclusion has been a topic that has been raised after the death of George Floyd. But of course, if you are a person of color, right, George Floyd was not the breaking point. We've had several different touchpoints where we needed to just create a space for ourselves, right, for Black folks, specifically, especially in Lansing.

We've had several different touchpoints where we needed to just create a space for ourselves, right, for Black folks, specifically, especially in Lansing.

And I think that, you know, there are places where we've been able to celebrate, but we just wanted to incorporate REO Town into it and just create a safe space of celebration, especially after COVID, you know. That was definitely a depressing year, 2020, right? And just celebrate Black everything right, like excellence, Black hair, Black entrepreneurship, Black art and just holding a space for that.

Saliby: Why do you think there hasn't been an event quite like this in Lansing before?

McClain: You know, I think that there are many spaces for Black people to have a safe space. I'm excited particularly about this Juneteenth celebration, because, one, it's in REO Town. It's, personally, a community I love, you know. We, [my] co-organizer and I, Mike, we are constantly in REO Town. We know most of the business owners there. So, we're excited to bring something to that neighborhood.

And then, you know, additionally, just incorporating so many different aspects. We want to make sure that everyone feels included, whether that's the LGBTQ community, whether that's the Black Diaspora, you know. It's not just African Americans here celebrating on Juneteenth, right? It's Caribbean folks. It's people from different countries. And we have artists. We have live performances, and it's a variety of different genres, which we appreciate. And then we have food vendors that are only Black-owned businesses. And we also have nonprofits that we decided to lift up like Mikey 23 Foundation.

So, I think something that incorporates all these different aspects is new to Lansing, and we're really excited to be planning it, especially, you know, after 2020.

Saliby: You mentioned a couple of the aspects of the festival. Can you talk more about what can people expect or what should, are like kind of the marquee parts of this festival?

McClain: Absolutely. So, super excited to have a Black entrepreneurship panel. We have some great panelists.

We also have musical performances from AOTA members, which is All of the Above [AOTA] hip hop members. Jahshua Smith, MikeyyAustin, Ozay Moore, Solo. So, in addition to all of that, we have steppers. I absolutely love just stepping and incorporating dance into things. So, we have Rashad who's also part of AOTA who's going to involve some of the steppers.

And then we will have more than 30 vendors at the event. We'll have Everything Is Cheesecake, Smoothie Queen. Several vendors, whether it's nonprofits, food vendors. Also, a mobile vaccination station.

Saliby: What does celebrating Juneteenth mean to you?

McClain: Celebrating, you know, I think that a lot of people see Juneteenth as a Black holiday. And, you know, it's more than just a Black holiday.

It's just a reminder that freedom did not come during the Fourth of July, for one, right, for a lot of people.

It's just a reminder that freedom did not come during the Fourth of July, for one, right, for a lot of people. Juneteenth is a celebration of Black future, Black past, what we have to look forward to, where we currently made it to the present and looking back at where we've came from.

Saliby: Mariah McClain is one of the coordinators of the REO Town Juneteenth festival. Thank you for being here.

McClain: Thanks for having me. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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