By SUE SUCHYTA
The sun was shining on the city’s Juneteenth celebration, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, held June 19 at O.W. Best Middle School, 22201 Powers Avenue.
Leslie Windless of the Dearborn Heights Community and Cultural Relations Commission said the event was sponsored by her commission, along with the non-profit From the Hood For the Hood; “Cann Cares,” run by D-7 Trustee Nate Cann; First Independence Bank and the Dearborn Heights firefighters.
Event organizer Latanya Gater, CCRC chair and CEO of Gater’s Got You LLC, said she enjoyed hosting both a gala, held at Henry Ford College on Friday, and the Sunday festival in Dearborn Heights. She hopes the attendees left feeling a strong sense of culture, pride, history and community connectedness.
Larry Castleberry from the Detroit African American Storytellers spoke about how storytelling helped teach slaves to read.
Denise Davis and the Motor City Sensations provided a musical education by playing music influenced by the African American community, which includes, in part, jazz, rhythm and blues, ragtime, soul, funk and hip hop.
One Single Rose, a poet and spoken word artist who raises awareness about police brutality against African Americans participated, as well.
“Dearborn Heights is leading with love today,” Windless said. “Everyone here, residents that I have known or seen before, of different backgrounds, are just here having a great time.”
There was face painting, a zip line, bounce houses and food trucks.
“We were able to support some local black businesses that are out here today, the League of Women Voters is here, and the NAACP is getting us involved,” Windless said. “It’s a really great day, and it is really great to see people coming together to celebrate such a worthy cause.”
Windless said they supported Dearborn’s Juneteenth Mobility Stroll and Roll June 18 at City Hall Park and along Michigan Avenue.
“We understand the importance of celebrating and supporting other small groups that are putting together events like this,” she said. “We actually worked with them behind the scenes, ahead of this, to make sure that both of our events were on different days, at different times, so it would be possible for people to celebrate in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights without having to choose.”
Windless said the Juneteenth Mobility Stroll and Roll had speakers from the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, the Detroit Department of Transportation, along with Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and Police Chief Issa Shahin.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School band and its majorettes led the participants down Michigan Avenue.
“It was such a great time,” Windless said. “Families coming together, having fun, from all different backgrounds, just to celebrate freedom and the privileges that we all have today.”
Another sponsor of the Juneteenth celebration in Dearborn Heights, Byron Brooks of Detroit, founder of the 501(c)(3) non-profit From the Hood For the Hood, said the organization is dedicated to developing, empowering and engaging young people’s communities that are often overlooked, being a trained catalyst for social justice and fighting against homelessness.
He said they are participating in a Summer of Giving tour, in which they go to marginalized communities and provide groceries, menstrual care kits and gas cards, and they have helped individuals with bail, with bills and passed out literature about resources available to people.
“That is the core of our work,” Brooks said. “We are also looking for more sponsors so we can continue to expand the reach.”
He said they rely on donations from private and community-based organizations.
“We believe in the African proverb, that’s ‘ubuntu,’ which translates to ‘I am because we are,’ which is that we are all connected,” Brooks said. “We prefer communal fundraising, versus state and government funding, because that comes with strings attached, and as a social justice organization, we refuse to be told who we can and can’t help.”
He said events like the Dearborn Heights Juneteenth Celebration are key to their beliefs.
“We are all about dismantling all forms of hatred and replacing it with equity and love,” he said. “There is too much hatred in the world, so we need time to come together as a community in fellowship and enjoy one another, and also learn from one another, and as you can see, we have a melting pot of demographics that are here today, and it is beautiful and this is just the beginning.”
Event sponsor Cann said he was pleased with Dearborn Heights’ second Juneteenth celebration.
“So many people are being brought together,” he said. “I am glad to see so many people out here, and it’s a beautiful day.”
Food vendor Kassandra Bennett of Unique Hot Dog and Catering said she was enjoying the atmosphere of the event.
“Everyone being out here is nice,” she said. “It’s bringing everybody together.”
Phil Hall from the Dearborn Heights Firefighters union said it was a great event, and he was glad to be there, supporting the community, and he hopes it becomes an annual event.
Dearborn Heights City Councilperson Mo Baydoun said it is events like this that bring the community together.
“It reminds us of how amazing this country is,” he said.
Dearborn Heights Police Chief Jerrod Hart said the event provided an exceptional opportunity to build relationships with all members of the community.
“We want people, when they see the Dearborn Heights Police Department, to think about what an awesome connection they have,” he said. “I am meeting a lot of new community members today, and it is just a great opportunity to network and share the love that we feel for our community.”
Hart, who has been the Dearborn Heights police chief for four months, has experienced Ramadan, Spirit Fest and now the Juneteenth celebration, and said he will continue to attend as many community events as he can.
Dearborn Heights Mayor Bill Bazzi said it was amazing to see the community come together.
“It’s heartwarming, you know,” he said. “People just working together, and they have a beautiful concert, and we had a storyteller earlier, about Juneteenth. It was amazing. The residents are having a good time. It is very refreshing.”
Dearborn Heights City Councilmember Tom Wencel said it was really impressive how many people turned out for the event.
“Juneteenth is pretty important in our country’s history, and I am glad that people are getting more aware of what it really means,” he said. “I am pretty impressed with this. I love it here.”