Educational exhibits taught attendees about Juneteenth last year and will return again this year. The federal holiday commemorates the date that the last U.S. slaves learned they were free.

Educational exhibits taught attendees about Juneteenth last year and will return again this year. The federal holiday commemorates the date that the last U.S. slaves learned they were free.

File photo by Donna Dalziel

Madison Heights Juneteenth Celebration returns to Civic Center Park

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published May 31, 2024


MADISON HEIGHTS — Since its debut in 2021, the Madison Heights Juneteenth Celebration has roughly doubled its turnout each year, with live music, food trucks, children’s activities, vendor sales and educational exhibits drawing a crowd.

This year’s event will once again be at Civic Center Park, located at 360 W. 13 Mile Road, running from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15.

Organized by the nonprofit Madison Heights Citizens United, the free event takes place mere weeks before the Pre-Fourth of July Festival in the Park at the same venue.

“Juneteenth doesn’t compete with the Fourth of July — it completes it,” said event organizer Kevin Wright. “It’s a one-two combination of celebrating freedom in Madison Heights, first with Juneteenth itself and then the Festival in the Park. Even though we still have a lot of work to do as far as racial equality in this country, the Juneteenth Celebration is a great holiday where we can all celebrate freedom together.”

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.

“I think it’s going to be a great time,” Wright said of the event. “Hopefully the weather cooperates this year, although we’ll go rain or shine, so long as it’s not severe weather.”

After an opening ceremony at 12:15 p.m. with welcoming remarks, an opening prayer and a reading of General Order No. 3, Emmy Award-winning performance artist Crystal “Kirei” Turner, of Flint, will perform an original piece titled “Freedom” that she composed exclusively for the event.

Live music begins at 1 p.m. with Kayfabe: The Ppls Band, a hard-rocking cover band that were the runner-up during the Battle of the Bands at last fall’s Trail Tunes.

At 1:45 p.m., steel pan soloist Quinton Robinson will perform, followed by the Detroit funk bank Groove Fellowship at 2:30 p.m., making their first appearance at the event.

At 3:15 p.m., award-winning actor and vocalist X Alexander Durden will perform a special tribute to Opal Lee — the 97-year-old Texas woman whose decades-long efforts were instrumental in Juneteenth being proclaimed a federal holiday in 2021.

“We commissioned him to specifically come up with something for this event,” Wright said. “He’s performed at each of our previous three events. He’s just an amazing talent.”

The music concludes at 4 p.m. with The Smoke Jones Heart and Soul Big Band, led by Alfred Lloyd “Smoke” Jones III, of Hazel Park. He will be accompanied by special guests such as jazz vocalist Audrey Northington, horn section leader Allen Dennard, and DJ Jewels Baby. Directed by Randal V. Wilson, the show will span multiple genres honoring the diverse contributions that the Black community has made on music and culture.

Throughout it all, there will be food and drinks available at the Food Truck Rally, featuring a variety of African American-owned food trucks. The selection will run the gamut, from soul food and Caribbean fare to ice cream and elephant ears.

Scheduled businesses include Big Bo’s Grill, Nita Signature Soul Food, We Juice, Mr. Creole, Steve’s World of Food, Chicken Headz, Eight Claws Crab Boil, So Icy Italian Ice, Royal Treats & Eats, Vedged Out, Grillz on Wheelz and Greedy Rice.

There will also be a pop-up sale featuring more than 50 local small business vendors selling clothing, accessories, jewelry, sunglasses, candles, oils, beads, gourmet popcorn, dream catchers, books, skincare products, face painting, crafts and more. The sale will also feature nonprofits and community resources, including the Human Rights and Equity Commission and the Madison Heights Public Library.

For the kids, there will be free youth attractions such as a 25-foot-tall climbing tower courtesy of Oakland County Parks, plus bounce houses, a petting zoo with pony rides, and special crafts.

The event is also an opportunity to learn about its namesake, with an eight-station educational exhibit featuring informational displays ranging from life in Africa before enslavement and the Atlantic slave trade, up through the history of Juneteenth and the modern Civil Rights Movement.

One can also contribute to a good cause by bringing nonperishable food items to donate to the Madison Heights Food Pantry, which will have a booth set up in the vendor area.

Wright originally pitched Juneteenth at the inaugural meeting of the city’s Human Rights and Equity Commission in the fall of 2020. Due to COVID considerations, the event didn’t come together until 2021, when it had an estimated 600 people. The turnout doubled to about 1,200 at the 2022 event, which was co-organized by the HREC and MHCU. Then, MHCU took over completely in 2023 with the HREC continuing to lend support, and the event has only continued to grow.

“Most of the day last year, there wasn’t a lot of parking available due to construction at Civic Center Plaza,” Wright said. “There were many people coming and going, getting carryouts and leaving. It was a huge turnout last year, more than 2,000 people. The entire parking lot at Lamphere (High) was crowded with people looking for spots. We hope to build on that momentum this year.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, noted that the event is run entirely by volunteers and funded solely by private and public sponsors.

“We had hoped the new bandshell would be ready by Juneteenth, but delays have pushed its completion out a few months,” Grafstein said via email.

Madison Heights City Councilman Quinn Wright, who is not related to Kevin Wright, said he always enjoys the Juneteenth Celebration.

“I really love how we get the best of Madison Heights to come out and support this event, and how it’s all gathered around creating community with good food and good music,” Quinn Wright said.

“I want people to keep in mind that this holiday is for everyone,” he continued. “Juneteenth tells the story of what it means to be a second-class citizen in America, and to have the promise of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness restored. It represents the embrace of equity and the independence of this great nation. It’s a celebration for everyone who loves America.”