By Jan Worth-Nelson
A five-day long Juneteenth “Freedom Festival” in north Flint starting Friday aims to honor the June 19, 1865 freeing of the slaves in Texas.
But that’s not all. Organizer April Cook-Hawkins says after a bruising four years of the water crisis, it’s time to have some fun. That means parades, cookouts, rallies, concerts and more.
The “Freedom Festival” extravaganza will start at 1 p.m. Friday with a four-hour-long showcase of businesses called “Black Wall Street” at Ballenger Park, followed by a 6 p.m. Women’s March, Power to the Polls rally and Youth Empower Barbecue. Three-on-three basketball will round out the day at 8 p.m.
Special guests Rev. Yearwood of Washington D.C., president of the Hip Hop Caucus; Flint native spoken word artist Mama Sol; comedian Big Juicy; and Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory will be in town at various times.
“Juneteenth represents the joy of freedom and new beginnings,” program committee members wrote on their Facebook page. “Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States by celebrating the joys of liberty, educating the community about our heritage and by promoting positive cultural interaction.”
The 2018 celebration theme is “Juneteenth, Heartbeat of the City.”
Cook-Hawkins, wife of Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church pastor Jeff Hawkins, is coordinating the many elements of the observance and says she is amazed and gratified by the response. Because the lineup is changing by the day as more merchants and organizations get on board, Cook-Hawkins suggests keeping in touch by going to princeofpeacembc.com or by calling 810-238-3076.
The biggest day is Saturday, Cook-Hawkins said. It features a parade starting at 1 p.m. at Northern High School and ending with a “Respect My Vote” rally and “Freedom Festival” at Summerfield Elementary at the corner of Mackin and Melbourne Streets. So far about 90 organizations have signed up for the parade, led by the drumline Night Fire, who’ll be followed by 25 dance groups, majorette teams, many floats, politicians, judges, the Michigan State Police, and the Flint Fire Department.
“After the water crisis, morale has really dropped here–there’s been this great cloud over us,” Cook-Hawkins said. “For the last four years we’ve been marching. Lately it’s like everybody is against each other and we don’t know who to believe. It’s just a lot going on, and we want to try to relieve the people for a minute.”
Because of uncertainty about the water, Flint kids can’t do what their parents and grandparents used to enjoy in childhood — running through sprinklers and popping a fire hydrant up for summer hijinks.
“It’s so unfortunate,” she said. “We just really want our kids to enjoy the summer. We want to change the dynamics of what they’ve been seeing for the past four years — we want to show them a parade, not a march.”
Like Juneteenth itself, the “Black Wall Street” event harkens back to historical precedents. Originally a section of Tulsa OK that was home to 600 black-owned businesses, the first Black Wall Street was burned down in a 1921 race riot when a white mob attacked residents and businesses over two days. Flint resident Katharine Blake, who was there when it happened, will speak at the event, Cook-Hawkins said.
Locally-owned businesses are the special focus of the Friday showcase.
“We’re trying to work together to circulate money within our community,” Cook Ha.wkins said. “A lot of businesses here are owned by people who don’t live here. Our community is so desolated, but if we frequent businesses here we have a better chance of building up our community.
The festival also features a strong emphasis on voter registration and many health and fitness exhibits and opportunities.
Sponsors include Respect My Vote, Hip Hop Caucus, Power to the Polls, Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church and others.
Schedule as provided by program organizers as of June 10:
FRIDAY, JUNE 15
11:00am – BLACK WALLSTREET
6:00pm – Women’s March Youth Empower BBQ
7:30pm – 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament
SATURDAY, JUNE 16
FREEDOM FESTIVAL & PARADE
8:30–10 a.m.: Women’s March Power to the Polls Educational Breakfast
10 a.m. – Noon: Parade Check-In all parade participants must be checked in by noon. (Northern High School)
12:30 p.m : Final Line-Up check (Dayton Street)
1 p.m.: Parade Kick-Off (Parade south on Welch Blvd, turn right on N. Ballenger Hwy, turn left on Mackin Rd. ending at Summerfield Elementary)
3-6 p.m.: Festival Begins (Summerfield Elementary)
MONDAY, JUNE 18
FREEDOM FESTIVAL STOP THE VIOLENCE AWARENESS DAY
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.: FLINTSTONE WALK OF FAME/LIGHT UP THE CITY (Baltimore Street)
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org