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In Photos: Celebrating Juneteenth

Dozens of cars lined the parking lot of the old Wainwright Elementary School building on the south side of Lansing waiting for the city's Juneteenth caravan to begin.

They were there to honor and celebrate the day enslaved people in Texas found out they were free.

That day was June 19, 1865 — nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved people free.

Saturday’s parade was the first in Lansing since President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, declaring the day a federal  holiday. For many of those in attendance, taking part in the parade has been a yearly tradition of celebration and remembrance.

Leola Taylor and Leola Watson

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Credit Michelle Jokisch Polo | WKAR-MSU
Leola Taylor (left) and Leola Watson (right) served as the Grand Marshalls of the 2021 Lansing Juneteenth Festival. They have been participating in the event for nearly 30 years.

Leading the caravan were Grand Marshals, Leola Taylor and Leola Watson who sat in the back of an early Ford model car. The pair are both from Lansing and have been participating in the city’s celebration for nearly 30 years.

When talking about Juneteenth, Taylor and Watson echoed sentiments of celebration and pride. “I'm here today because we've [Black people] been celebrating our freedom since 1862,” Taylor said.

“And I represent my people. I represent freedom, and I represent the state of Michigan,” joined Watson.

But for Taylor, she said the celebration is a reminder of how far there is yet to go in the liberation of Black people in America.

“Even when we fill out an application for a job, for the doctor's office, we all have to identify who we are, which is separation, instead of saying I am an American and have been an American over 400 years," Taylor said.

When asked what she expects for the day’s celebration, Taylor said she planned to have a good time and for white people to have hard conversations about race and the treatment of Black people in United States.

“It's comfortable for us because we've been having the conversation all the time. We have the conversation and it makes other people uncomfortable, but it just makes us share the knowledge that we already know, even though they don't always accept it,” she said.

Ahsahki Guy & Crystal Page

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Credit Michelle Jokisch Polo | WKAR-MSU
The Young Black Panthers Party pose for a photo with raised fists at the 2021 Lansing Juneteenth Celebration. James Henson (left), the founder of the group, stands next to fellow members (from left to right): Kiandra Marciniak, Ahsahki Guy, Crystal Page, Alasia Williams, Myka Armisted and Farhan Omar.

Ahsahki Guy and Crystal Page are both members of the Young Black Panthers Party. It's a group founded by Lansing resident, James Henson, and inspired by the original Black Panther Party.

For Guy, she calls Juneteenth the “Black People’s Fourth of July”.

“Its all about the day that enslaved people were liberated — which they never should have been,” she said. “But, you know, this is what we celebrate. This is our holiday.”

While she’s happy Juneteenth is now a federal holiday,  she said she would like to see reparations for the descendants of enslaved people.

A measure being considered in Congress would study the effects of  slavery in the country and create a proposal for potential reparations to Black Americans.

The late Michigan Rep. John Conyers first introduced the bill in 1989, but it wasn’t until April of this year, it received approval from a judiciary committee.

Today, the bill awaits a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“What is it going to take to get the community coming together collectively, not just here, but everywhere, uniting around the world? Like how, when George Floyd passed, everybody stood united and fought on the same side,” Guy said. “We need to keep applying pressure steadily until they do what we asked them to do, by any means necessary. It doesn’t always have to be peaceful."

Page is one of the newest members of the group. She said she’s tired of having to deal with racism in the workplace and not being taken seriously because of the color of her skin.

“I work hard. I show up. I do what I'm supposed to do. I do overtime, I do everything. it's just unfair,” she said. “But maybe if I was white, I feel like maybe if I was white, they would take me a little bit more seriously.”

Celebrating Juneteenth this year for Guy and Page is all about finding ways to resist white supremacy. 

If you're using our votes, you're using our voices to get into those offices. You're using our power, pushing you into those places, and when you get into those seats, you should be held accountable to those people that are putting you in power. Because the power is always going to be with us.

"If you're using our votes, you're using our voices to get into those offices. You're using our power, pushing you into those places, and when you get into those seats, you should be held accountable to those people that are putting you in power. Because the power is always going to be with us," Guy said.

"And I think a lot of people need to understand that there's always going to be more power within the people than in the people in power."

Ken Turner 

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Credit Michelle Jokisch Polo | WKAR-MSU
Ken Turner was a volunteer for the 2021 Lansing Juneteenth Celebration. He is standing in the parking lot of Wainwright School holding an umbrella minutes before the caravan was scheduled to begin.

This year, Ken Turner was a volunteer for the event. He was in charge of making sure vehicles didn't deviate from the route to Alfreda Schmidt Community Center.

He said he no longer works and he wanted to use his time to benefit the community. When asked what he thinks about Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, he said he’s excited.

“It's long overdue, but it's wonderful, you know, and hopefully, it'll be celebrated equally all over the country,” he said.

A’Lynne Dukes

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Credit Michelle Jokisch Polo | WKAR-MSU

When A’Lynne Dukes found out about the Juneteenth celebration a few months ago, she didn’t hesitate to sign her group up. She’s the president of Les Meres et Debutantes Club of Greater Lansing.

The group was formed in 1962 by nine African American women who wanted to present their daughters to society but were not allowed to be a part of white social clubs.

“This is extremely important to us because we watch the transformation of this from just our celebration to now the world celebrating what has become a national holiday,” Dukes said.

Dukes hopes the holiday serves as an opportunity for continued dialogue between people of all races and ethnicities.

“It shouldn't have taken this long, but we're just happy that we're here now. Hopefully, this will continue to open the dialogue and discussion across the board for individuals talking about equality, diversity and inclusion and social justice,” she said.

Justin and Mikayla Brunson

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Credit Michelle Jokisch Polo | WKAR-MSU
Mikayla and Justin Brunson pose in front of the bus they rode in to the Juneteenth Caravan. The siblings were winners of the 2021 Lansing Juneteenth Essay Competition.

Justin and Mikayla Brunson arrived at Saturday’s celebration in a school bus. They're siblings and two of the six winners of the 2021 Olivia Letts Lansing Juneteenth Essay Competiton.

Mikayla’s winning essay was about tradition and how for more than one hundred years, Black people have been intentional with honoring and remembering June 19.

These events are a reminder that our people are still here and that our lives matter.

“These events are a reminder that our people are still here and that our lives matter,” she added. Her brother, Justin, who is fourteen years old, said for him, Junteenth is about remembering where he comes from.

For his winning essay, he wrote about that strength. He said he wants people to keep their history and their ancestors top of mind when celebrating Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth is about the people that made me possible, and I am proud to honor them today."

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