TUESDAY, June 15 — A new Juneteenth festival will arrive in REO Town this weekend, featuring a massive lineup of live Black music, Black-owned food vendors and an in-depth panel discussion about living the Black experience in Lansing.
The daylong celebration is set to run from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 19 along South Washington Avenue, with vendors stretching from South Street to East Elm Street.
Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipation of those who were enslaved in the United States. The holiday’s name commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of freedom in Texas. The first Juneteenth celebrations were held the following year.
Michael Austin, a musician who performs as MikeyyAustin and one of the main organizers behind the new REO Town event, was inspired to help organize the festival after growing up and regularly attending the annual Lansing Juneteenth Festival, a week’s worth of festivities celebrating Black culture that was founded in 1993. He has booked similar events in past years, including Black Arts Matter, a REO Town concert series boosting Black musicians and artists in February.
“It taught me what Juneteenth was. Going to cultural festivals as a kid, seeing local artists perform and seeing the local vendors — that stuff always interested me,” Austin said. “We’re celebrating Black culture, Black expression and the Black experience locally, but also observing the 156 years post-emancipation. There’s a lot of things that still need to be done, and barriers and obstacles we deal with everyday.”
Musicians performing at the festival represent a diverse blend of genres and influences, ranging from hip-hop, soul and jazz to poetry to gospel. Most performers are local to Lansing, and all of them are based in Michigan. Ozay Moore & Sareem Poems, Redwood, Sean Holland II, MikeyyAustin, Jahshua Smith and Native Child will perform on the main stage. There will also be DJ performances by Y’z Council and Bizzy B.
“It’s a wide range of Black music. From afro beat and dance hall, to 2000s hip-hop and R&B,” Austin said. “My goal was to highlight different aspects of Black culture and expression by incorporating poetry, jazz, gospel and hip-hop. The hope is to capture the Black essence in all of its different forms.”
Food and drinks will also be provided by a number of Lansing Black-owned restaurants, including Krystal's Kitchen, Everything is Cheesecake, Smoothie Queen, Nature's 92 and 1991Greenery. There will also be several vendors where attendees can purchase unique artisan gifts, like Gems by Kayla. Local shops will also be running pop-up sales.
“It was a cool experience to be introduced to things I didn’t know were here,” Austin said. “I want the rest of the community to have that educational moment as well.”
The new Juneteenth celebration will also a feature panel discussion facilitated by Tony Willis, Chief Equity Development Officer at Lansing Economic Area Partnership as well as several informational booths set up by organizations like the All of the Above Hip-Hop Academy, Mikey23 Foundation, Youshine Events, Lansing Alpha's, Lansing Community College, Michigan College Access Network, Mobile Vaccination Station and more.
“The discussion will open up the floor for Black business owners in Lansing to talk about their experience, and discuss the successes and challenges that come with it,” Austin said.
Austin said the event is all-inclusive but is primarily organized as a safe place for Black expression.
“We’re celebrating how far we’ve come and also celebrating the future of where we’re going. That was the idea of having Juneteenth in REO Town this year,” he said.
REO Town Juneteenth Festival
Saturday, June 19, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
REO Town, Lansing
More info at: Juneteenthfestival517.com