Three well-dressed women with name tags on sit at a table and laugh together as they eat breakfast.

GVSU hosts Juneteenth Jubilee Breakfast at the start of Juneteenth celebrations

Juneteenth celebrations at GVSU began early on June 19 at the second annual Juneteenth Jubilee breakfast. Grand Valley faculty, staff and community members gathered to start their days with breakfast and live music at the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

“It’s really exciting to start a day of celebration right here at Grand Valley State University,” said President Philomena V. Mantella during remarks at the breakfast. “As we commemorate this important holiday, I reflect on the notion that we have freedoms that we enjoy, but we still have work to do. We constantly have to be vigilant, and I think the best way to do that is to come together and recognize the contributions of all our community, but on this day in particular our Black community at GVSU. We hope this will be a robust tradition that continues.” 

President Mantella stands behind a podium and addresses the crowd. a monitor behind her reads "Welcome Juneteenth Jubilee Breakfast"

Mantella’s remarks were preceded by a performance of the Black National Anthem by Cassonya Carter, a senior academic advisor for the Kirkhof College of Nursing. 

The song, a hymn titled "Lift Every Voice and Sing," was originally written in the early 1900s when African Americans were searching for an identity of their own, explained Carter. It began as a poem written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, and was put to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson.

Also performing at the Jubilee breakfast was local musician Avalon Cutts-Jones, who also sang at President Mantella’s inauguration in 2019. She was accompanied by Millacie Jones, Keisha Patterson, and Tyreece Guyton. 

“As a member of the Grand Valley community, it’s great to be able to celebrate Juneteenth here and know that Grand Valley is aware of different occasions throughout the year,” said Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for Federal TRIO Programs, who attended the breakfast. “I’m a two-time Grand Valley alum, and it’s just really nice to see how we’ve grown in the area of inclusivity and diversity, and to be a part of this.” 

A woman in a black and white outfit stands and listens to the Black National Anthem being performed.
Nykia Gaines shakes the hand of another faculty member as they eat breakfast.

Following the breakfast was the Junior Juneteenth Freedom Parade presented by West Michigan Jewels of Africa and the City of Grand Rapids, part of a variety of commemorations on June 19 and throughout the month of June .

Juneteenth commemorates the freedom of enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865. Two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and abolished slavery, Texas was the final state in the Confederacy to receive word that the Civil War had ended.

Other GVSU-sponsored events on June 19 include: 

Noon - 6:00 pm – 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration: On the Block 

  • GVSU is the presenting sponsor of the 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration hosted by Sistas in Development. 
  • Location: Grand Rapids Media Initiative and Film Incubator, 1110 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

1:00 - 7:00 pm – Dickinson Park Dunumba  

  • Hosted by West Michigan Jewels of Africa, GVSU is the platinum sponsor of this year's event. This signature event is the original Juneteenth celebration in Grand Rapids.
  • Location: Dickinson Buffer Park, 1635 Willard St. SE, Grand Rapids
A girl with colorful beads in her hair holds a water bottle in her mouth and holds an umbrella above her to shield herself from the sun.
A group of kids in yellow shirts that read “Summer Baxter” walk in a parade.


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