Inaugural Justice 4 All Juneteenth Jam brings community together for ‘day of celebration’
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Vendors, performers and community resources lined the Grand River at Ah-Nab-Awen Park for the inaugural Justice 4 All Juneteenth Jam.
The celebration took place on Saturday, June 19, the first Juneteenth since President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, officially marking June 19 a national holiday.
Organized by Justice 4 All, an apparel company that focuses on activism and awareness, the event brought together nearly 20 local Black-owned businesses, as well as provided entertainment through a DJ, art demonstrations and more.
Julius Rogers, event organizer and Justice 4 All founder, said the event is ultimately a celebration intending to bring all Americans together. In a sense, it’s a celebration of America recognizing that all of its people are truly free, Rogers said.
“All in all, it is an American holiday and it is here for everybody to celebrate,” he said. “Yes, it is specifically centered around the emancipation and the true emancipation from slavery, but ultimately, it’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of coming together like, ‘OK, we recognize as an entire nation that every person in here is a true citizen.’”
Despite slight rain delays, patrons tricked into the free event where they explored businesses, enjoyed a bounce house, grabbed food and listened to live music.
Curtis Robinson, owner of Real Que BBQ, brought out a smoker to serve pulled pork, smoked chicken and other savory fixings. Beyond feedings guests, Robinson said that fostering events like Juneteenth Jam that unite Black-owned businesses is a great way to continue to promote local entrepreneurship and community ties.
“To be able to just grow with each other, share each other’s ideas, to even be able to nurture and to support each other,” he said. “Word of mouth is, you know, you just can’t replace that. We look forward to it. We really do.”
Rogers echoed that sentiment, saying that representation in Grand Rapids’ growing business community is key to its development.
“Representation matters,” Rogers said. “On my two hands, I can probably count all the Black-owned businesses that are actually in the downtown area. So being able to cultivate and bring together multiple different Black-owned vendors that are doing awesome things showcasing awesome things -- that’s literally what it’s all about.”
The Jam was a blend of education and community-building, Robinson said. He said he hoped guests not only gained insight on the holiday, but also enjoyed themselves in the process.
“Well, I hope it’s an educational experience first and foremost so everyone understands what Juneteenth is all about and what it stands for,” he said. “After that, just have fun, relax and learn a little bit more about community business that’s opening up and support each other and try to have a great time.”
The other half of the event focused on highlighting Black arts and culture, which included a DJ, a graffiti art demonstration and a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Monk Matthaeus, Hip Hop Association of Advancement and Education co-founder and vice president , came to support Rogers as a fellow crew member of their hip hop collective. Not only is using music, art and culture important to celebrations like this, but showing solidarity and togetherness is just as integral, Matthaeus said.
“It’s important for white folks to be out here in solidarity, but it’s for education purposes too,” he said. “White folks a lot of times don’t even understand what stuff like this is because it doesn’t technically affect white people. But it’s just the fact of coming and learning. Knowledge is power.”
While Rogers initially planned for the event to just include a small group of speakers, the growth and support it received early on allowed it to “blossom,” he said. With that much momentum, he said he expects it to continue to be a Grand Rapids mainstay moving forward.
“It exploded,” he said. “People were just like,’ Alright, we want to be involved, we want to do this.’ And I was like, well, I guess we’re not doing [the original plan] anymore. So it just kind of snowballed into this. The weather worked out so it’s been a really good time.”