Juneteenth in Detroit

How Black Detroiters are taking up space for Juneteenth.

With any major holiday comes an influx of activities and events for folks to choose from, leaving some overwhelmed and others ready to embrace as much as they can with those they love. 

A holiday attributed to the delayed announcement of freedom to enslaved Africans in the deep South, Juneteenth calls for celebration from Black Americans throughout the country, allowing us to commemorate our ancestors and all they endured during enslavement.

Whether folks are out celebrating over food and music, educating themselves on the rich history of Black America, or simply being, the day calls for a pause and acknowledgment of the disdain held upon Black Americans and their resistance to it over time and continuously. 

Triniti Watson told Planet Detroit, “I feel like I celebrate Juneteenth by knowing it’s a practice of memory that reminds me of who I am and what came before me.”

Watson describes herself as a “student of Detroit” who takes up space in the city by embracing Black-centered spaces and exploring different movements taking place in the city.  She said she celebrates as best she or anyone can for the day while acknowledging the fact that freedom has not been fully attained. 

Triniti Watson. Courtesy photo.

“What does it mean for me to uncover history, which then means uncovering myself, which then also gives me tools to figure out my Black freedom within this time?” she said. 

Juneteenth recently became a national holiday in 2021 amid continuous uprisings in 2020 and pressures of continuous chants of “Black Lives Matter,” which followed wrongful killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police. Many would argue that while enslavement as known in the 1800s no longer exists, a form still remains in many ways in the current day as Black Americans risk wrongful deaths at any time, being subjected to poisonous air due to where they reside, or through the carceral system where prisoners are subjected to free labor.

However, despite countless acts of violence and prejudice against an entire race, whether directly through violence or indirectly through environmental racism, Black folks everywhere are taking this time to embrace their culture in whichever way feels good to them.  

Watson stated a desire to “self-celebrate” rather than communally. “I can exist within me and in my own way,” she said. “So I might do something, but also, what would it mean to celebrate Juneteenth in my room or getting rest? How does that honor Black freedom?”.

Juneteenth has become prominent in recent years as people become more educated on its history and importance. I, for certain, did not learn of Juneteenth in school and had not learned of its significance or existence until 2016 – another year filled with uprisings against police brutality as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were wrongfully murdered. 

Marcia Black reminisced on how she celebrated Juneteenth in 2020 when a lot of tensions were had in Detroit, recalling moments of joy and resistance as she and other organizers “took up space.”


Marcia Black. Courtesy Photo.

“Honestly, one of my favorite Juneteenth memories was occupying the Spirit of Detroit without permission and offering clothing, food, and a healing space,” she said. “That was the most beautiful way I ever took up space.”

These days, Black is taking up space in Detroit as the director of Black Bottom Archives (BBA), an organization dedicated to archiving and telling the stories of Black Detroiters and the neighborhood they lost to freeway expansion as an opportunity to preserve its history. 

Black raises the importance of preserving stories and telling history from Black Detroiters and Americans more broadly. She told Planet Detroit, “I think it’s important to think about what happens when we don’t know our history.”

Black recently announced the Sankofa Community Research Project, which will call for reparations for the Black Bottom community as their neighborhood was demolished in the name of eminent domain, making way for I-375, now slated to be reconstructed in the coming years. 

The theme rests upon the principle of Sankofa, which translates to “go back and get it,” which Black translates to the understanding of tying to ancestral veneration. “Oftentimes, ancestral veneration is like an active practice, which means that we’re venerating our ancestors, not because we just want to honor the past, but because honoring the past shapes our present and shapes our future,” she said. 

 Black will be celebrating Juneteenth along the Dequindre Cut as BBA will be debuting their exhibit,  Black Bottom Street View 2.0. 

Multimodal artist Na’s plans are rooted in movement, music, and tradition. They mentioned their ability to take up space in Detroit by sharing their art and being in the art community. 

“I’m gonna be Black, and I’m gonna be resting – I’m gonna go to the Dequindre Cut. I’m gonna see my family spin some music. I’m gonna listen to a lot of incredible music outside, and I’m gonna eat some really good food,” they said. 

Aside from the need to acknowledge Black history, Na shares the importance of just “being” on this day. She and her family have been celebrating the holiday for a while; now the national recognition allows for them to just “be”, she said, enjoying the day however they feel. They plan to make potato salad using a recipe passed down through their family. 

Multimodal artist Na. Courtesy photo.

Na shared the appreciation for the national recognition allowing for more opportunities to perform as a musical artist and to be “activated” in the community while also pointing out the general lack of acknowledgment for Black Americans’ struggle. 

“Who the fuck cares about Flag Day and Presidents Day and shit?” Na shared. ” I think more than anything, it’s an acknowledgment of the history of my family and our people and Black people at large, in a way that historically has not been acknowledged.”


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