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 Detroit — Melody Harden said she felt it was important to commemorate Juneteenth this year and had to attend the city’s celebration.

“With everything that’s going on in the world, I wanted to support something that’s positive here in Detroit,” the 50-year-old Detroiter said, standing on Woodward near the city’s new “Power To The People” street mural.

“Not just for the black race, but for all races because when people are treated equally and fairly, that’s good for everyone.”

Harden said she used a couple of vacation hours from work to attend the 10 a.m. event, the city’s second Juneteenth celebration. She was joined by hundreds at the celebration, held about 30 yards from the mural in downtown Detroit’s Spirit Plaza.

The celebration featured speeches by community leaders, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; Charity Dean, director of the city’s Civil Rights, Inclusion, and Opportunity Department; Rochelle Riley, the city’s director of arts and culture, and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawerence, D-Southfield.

Friday’s rally capped off the city’s week of events commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Texas freed the last of America’s slaves after learning about the South’s surrender in the Civil War two months earlier.

Duggan said Friday’s event was also about celebrating the city’s young people.

“We have enormous talent in this city,” the mayor said. “If you look at (the mural), this is the kind of talent we are here to celebrate.”

Duggan and some of the other speakers at the Juneteenth celebration had to shout over a small group of protesters who were calling for the government to defund the police.

The temperature was nearly 80 degrees in the plaza when the event started. There was a wide range of ages and races. Most people wore face masks to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts that said Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth 1865.  

A libation or ritual pouring of blessed water performed by Seydi Sarr, founder and director of African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs, kicked off the celebration.

A rendition of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by Victoria Cooksey, a member of the Detroit Youth Choir, followed.

And the new street mural, which stretches from Jefferson to Larned on Woodward’s pavement, was officially unveiled. It’s creator, award-winning artist Hubert Massey, was present. He was joined by many of the 20 Detroit students who were chosen to work with him on the project.

There were also African dancers and drummers, performers and refreshments.

This year’s even took on even greater significance amid ongoing protests in Detroit and across the country in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd during an incident involving police in Minneapolis. 

“Today, we are going to celebrate black lives, we’re going to honor our ancestors,” Dean said. “This is a black city and we are excited to be black in this city and make change.”

She urged everyone in attendance to register to vote, if they haven’t already, and fill out the U.S. Census forms. “Now is also our time to act,” she said. “This is how we act.”

Like Harden, George Doughton, 56, of Detroit said he was compelled to attend the celebration.

“My ancestors went through so much, slavery, fighting for civil rights and everything,” he said. “It’s really a celebration of them and their struggle. I’m really glad to see everyone out here.”

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

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