At last year’s Juneteenth celebration in Madison Heights, Colette Vandervest, of Grosse Pointe, received a painted tattoo from Princess Tiana. Attendees enjoyed live music, educational exhibits, children’s activities, a rib contest and more. This year’s event will be at Civic Center Park June 17.

At last year’s Juneteenth celebration in Madison Heights, Colette Vandervest, of Grosse Pointe, received a painted tattoo from Princess Tiana. Attendees enjoyed live music, educational exhibits, children’s activities, a rib contest and more. This year’s event will be at Civic Center Park June 17.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Madison Heights Citizens United to host Juneteenth celebration

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published June 1, 2023


MADISON HEIGHTS — For the third year in a row, Madison Heights will mark the end of slavery in the U.S. with a Juneteenth celebration.

Hosted by Madison Heights Citizens United, this year’s event will once again take place at Civic Center Park, 360 W. 13 Mile Road, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 17.     

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming that all enslaved people are free. The Texan slaves were the last to realize their freedom.

“It’s an important part of American history I was never taught about in school and just learned a few years ago,” said Kevin Wright, one of the event organizers, via email. “Some have said that Juneteenth takes away from the Fourth of July, but I think the opposite is true: Juneteenth doesn’t compete with the Fourth of July — it completes the Fourth of July, because it’s the day that all Americans became free.”

He noted that the Juneteenth event takes place one week before the city’s Pre-Fourth of July Festival in the Park, which makes for a “one-two punch of celebrating freedom in our city.”

Kevin Wright was a member of the city’s Human Relations & Equity Commission back when the event first started under that board. Last year, the HREC co-hosted the event with the MHCU. This year, the MHCU is the sole organizer.

The event will feature more than 40 small business vendors, of which about 80% are owned by African-American entrepreneurs. They will be selling such varied items as floral arrangements, clothing, jewelry, waist beads, sunglasses, body oils, candles, books, pillows, throws, quilts and dream catchers. The Madison Heights Food Pantry will also have a booth at the venue.

The Juneteenth Food Truck Rally will also be taking place. An event within an event, the rally will feature all African-American-owned food trucks, such as Big Bo’s Grill, Grillz on Wheelz, Mr. Creole, Eight Claws Crab Boil LLC, Yeah It’s Vegan, B.L. Ellis Catering, Clara’s Place Soul Food, Motor City Sweet Treats, Royal Eats and Treats, and So Icy Italian Ice.

The musical lineup includes the R&B group Smoke Jones Band, led by Hazel Park resident Alfred Lloyd “Smoke” Jones III. Other acts include the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, vocalist and actor X Alexander Durden, steel pan artist Quinton Robinson, and Kayfabe: The Ppls Band — a metro Detroit rock band performing covers and making its debut at this event.

When the city first celebrated Juneteenth in 2021, attendance was around 600 people on a rainy day. Attendance doubled in 2022, making it one of the largest such Juneteenth celebrations in Michigan. Awareness for the date has grown steadily since the day became a federal holiday in 2021.

Everything this year is paid for completely by Madison Heights Citizens United through donations in the form of sponsorships, grants, T-shirt sales and private contributions. The event is run entirely by volunteers. The group is reimbursing the city for the cost of police and public works staff who will be helping manage the event.

As a licensed 501(c)(3) nonprofit, all donations to Madison Heights Citizens United are tax deductible. More details are available at the event’s website,, or the group’s website,, as well as its Facebook page.

Extra volunteers are also needed to help run the event, and they can apply on Facebook or by emailing

Madison Heights City Councilman Quinn Wright — who is not related to Kevin Wright — said that the event is an opportunity for people to come together to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

“I would hope that everyone keeps in mind that this is a celebration for everyone,” he said. “The goal is to help bring us closer together. It’s not meant for any one subculture. It’s meant for those who want to celebrate freedom and the opportunity for everyone to live the American dream.”

Quinn Wright said that Juneteenth is also an opportunity to think about “racial reconciliation,” which he described as a four-step process that begins with people listening to each other’s life experiences with an open mind.

The next step, he said, is lamentation, “which really means to just grieve with people,” he said. “We first acknowledge that slavery was awful, and how when bad things happen, we sometimes put on a straight face and say, ‘Pick up yourself and move forward.’ But we acknowledge that we should also take a minute to say aloud, ‘What your people went through was not fun — it was traumatic.”

The third step is learning from the perspectives of others, he said, followed by the final step of sharing what you learned with others — using your relationships and connections to raise awareness for the hardships faced by different people.

“You can leverage your spheres of influence to help make the world better,” Quinn Wright said.

Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem, said he appreciates the efforts of Madison Heights Citizens United.

“Historically, the city has done a great job of celebrating the Fourth of July. That holiday is about liberty, but we have an understanding that it was an imperfect liberty because slavery still existed in the nation. So the importance of Juneteenth is about freedom for all, and celebrating both of these events allows us to recognize both important moments in our shared history as Americans,” Bliss said. “Juneteenth serves as a rallying cry for all of us to think about and truly understand the meaning and history of freedom in our country.”

The mayor, Roslyn Grafstein, said the event is educational.

“For me, personally, I was born and raised in Canada, and didn’t even know about Juneteenth until 2020. I knew about slavery and all that, but I didn’t know it took some years for the last slaves to find out they were free,” Grafstein said. “I think it’s important for people to understand that history — the educational aspect is huge.”

Madison Heights City Councilmember Sean Fleming was serving on the HREC when the event was first discussed. He made the motion to support Kevin Wright’s proposal.

“I think it’s also great to raise awareness for African-American-owned small businesses, and to help promote them in the community,” Fleming said. “The event itself helps share the historical story of the last slaves to be freed in the United States, and that is an important story to tell.”