Sarvis Park

Sarvis Park neighborhood ushers in Juneteenth with a kickoff celebration

FLINT, Michigan — Ain’t no party like a Juneteenth party, and on Saturday, June 8, Sarvis Park felt like a moment in time we could cherish and hold on to with pride. Kids played in the bounce houses while their parents shopped at different vendor tables, and others looked after each other as if they were their own.

Cars halted in the middle of the street, wondering what was happening, and whoever answered responded with, “It’s the Juneteenth kickoff event; come join us!” Some parked immediately after the invitation, others lightheartedly grinned and promised to return later.

“My mom is a resident of this area,” voiced one attendee. “[My parents], they’ve been here 51 years in this neighborhood, and I think it’s good for the neighborhood that we can come together.”

2nd Ward Councilwoman Dr. Ladel Lewis and the Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association hosted the Juneteenth kickoff event. The councilwoman remains a powerful force in the Sarivs Park area as she engaged with crowds of people smiling and being anchored in the spirit of Juneteenth.

Bryce Mata | FlintsideAn exuberating basketball match at Sarvis Park's Juneteenth kickoff celebration on June 8, 2024.
The kickoff celebration was organized by GenWEL United Flint, a new non-profit organization in Flint that focuses on mental, physical, and economic wealth and whose mission is to ‘create an equitable environment through knowledge, resources, and opportunity.’

Each vendor smiled as their decorated tables advertised their business. Consumer’s Energy, the International Academy of Flint, the Friend of the Court, and a few other non-entrepreneurial entities had stations set up that represented several of the 30-plus vendors. They specifically wanted to be there to educate and eliminate any possible barriers community members face.

“This is the first event that I have been to of this magnitude as a vendor, especially with the amount of sponsors here,” says one vendor owner. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to be here. This is the first time, I think, I’ve been on this side of town [and it] outshined what my expectations were.”

Speaking with two representatives of the Friend of the Court organization, I learned that they provide motions for anybody with custody and child support issues. They also help keep the community informed on how to revamp their cases and enforce or modify them.

Bryce Mata | FlintsideThe non-profit GenWEL United Flint members pose at the Juneteenth kickoff celebration on June 8, 2024.
“It’s important for us to be here because we have historically been inaccessible to the community, and we have created some trauma and difficult situations for families in the community,” they said. “We recognize some of the problematic history of entities like us and are actively working to restore and improve our relationship with the community members and the families.”

The event provided free food and live entertainment, with a free ticket from the registration table that you could cash in for a free taco. However, the delectable aroma of BBQ enticed people to purchase hot links to share the same fate as their complementary taco.

Near the basketball court were bleachers that sat families of the Flint City Steppers —a performance step group of young girls — along with other community residents. “I’m pleased to be here today. I came to support my sister. She has a community step team [called the] Flint City Steppers who are about to be cutting up!” voiced one woman.

The young ladies performed twice in between impromptu basketball games. At first glance, they seemed shy, but once the music played, they set the concrete court ablaze, and people sang their praises with applause and cheers.

Bryce Mata | FlintsideVendors were plentiful at Sarvis Park's Juneteenth kickoff on June 8, 2024.
On June 19, 1865, Juneteenth commemorated the day when 250,000 slaves in the state of Texas became the last bastion for slavery during the final days of the Civil War.

Juneteenth is to African Americans what Independence Day is to America which is why similar traditions take place. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth the eleventh American federal holiday and the first to obtain legal observance as a federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The late E. Hill De Loney, a civil rights activist and leader, introduced Juneteenth celebrations in Flint by helping organize the city’s first celebration in 1972. Similar to Flint’s Kwanzaa events, the celebration’s intentions are meant to teach our community, especially our Black residents, about their history and heritage and to be the change they wish to see for future generations.

“As a community member of Flint, I am just proud to see the people coming out to support Juneteenth,” explains a community member. “But we have to do better at having events. It shouldn’t be a specific holiday. We have got to be community-minded, community-based, and ready to be community-ready.”
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