Attendees at Royal Oak’s 2023 Juneteenth event participate in the Juneteenth Freedom Strive, a 1,865-step march that signifies the year that word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas.

Attendees at Royal Oak’s 2023 Juneteenth event participate in the Juneteenth Freedom Strive, a 1,865-step march that signifies the year that word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Sibling activists aim to educate children about Juneteenth in Royal Oak

By: Taylor Christensen | Royal Oak Review | Published June 10, 2024


ROYAL OAK — June 19 annually marks the day of emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring more than three million enslaved people living in the Confederate states to be free. It could not be enforced in many places until the Confederacy surrendered during the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

For the fourth year in a row, Royal Oak will be holding a Juneteenth celebration at Centennial Commons from 3 to 8 p.m. June 19.

The Juneteenth event will also include a freedom walk in which participants take 1,865 steps to symbolize the year of freedom for enslaved people.

The freedom walk will begin at 4 p.m. and wind through the neighborhood near Centennial Commons. Supplies for making posters will be provided at the event for those who wish to make a sign.

Co-Chairperson Lakeesha Morrison holds this event close to her heart, as she and her brother, Carvell Wilkins, began the event in 2020.

Morrison said the history of June 19 was not a topic that was often talked about during her days in school. Because of this, her and her brother’s goal was to create an event tailored to educating the children of the community.

“We wanted to make sure our young students and children knew about, you know, American history when it came to Juneteenth and allow them to understand and grasp the idea,” Morrison said.

Wilkins said that people connect with other people who look like them, and throughout school he did not see a lot of Black representation in the history books.

“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to just learn about me,” Wilkins said, reflecting on his school days. “Sometimes we need to see ourselves, and this is an opportunity for the future generations to have the opportunity to see themselves.”

A mobile museum is the new feature of this year’s celebration, called the Black History 101 Museum. It will be located inside the Royal Oak Farmers Market from 3 to 8 p.m.

The founder of the museum, Dr. Khalid el-Hakim, will be there to speak about the artifacts, photos and information provided in the museum.

“He is going to be educating people on Juneteenth and how it all got started, and Black history as well,” Wilkins said. “He will be talking about prominent Black figures that we don’t know much about or have never heard of.”

Morrison and Wilkins grew up in Royal Oak and have deep roots within the community. They are descendants of one of the first Black families to settle in Royal Oak, dating back more than 160 years.

The two are related to the freedom-seekers Henry Hamer (1816-1899) and Elizabeth Hamer (1824-1913), two prominent individuals who settled in Royal Oak in 1860.

The Hamers were born into chattel slavery, bought and sold until they became the property of Henry Bruce Jr., of Covington, Kentucky.

On Aug. 27, 1856, the Hamers left their enslaver and traveled up the Underground Railroad to Windsor, Ontario, in September of 1856.

“I felt like this is a privilege to continue to educate our community about the excellence of Black people,” Morrison said. “I want this to be something that will continue to have my name and my brother’s name attached to it, because I feel like we have to own up to our ancestors’ name that made a name within our community.”

The Juneteenth celebration will include plenty of activities to engage and educate people who come to the event, including arts and crafts, presentations, games, music and more.

Wilkins said that this year they will have Cornelius Godfrey, a Detroit native diversity and equity consultant, as this year’s presenter, who will talk about the history of Juneteenth and why it is celebrated today.

The siblings are looking forward to the educational benefit and fun that the Juneteenth celebration has to offer. Wilkins believes that the event will provide great opportunities for people of different cultures to come together as one.

“Let’s learn more about each other,” Wilkins said. “The more we learn about each other, the more we feel like we know each other, and the more we know each other, the more we love each other.”