Juneteenth Celebration Held on Gipson 52-Acre Farm in Watervliet, MI

 WATERVLIET, MI —  People came from all directions, Chicago, Lansing, Detroit and Lake Michigan to the 52-acre farm of Phil and Tia Gipson in Watervliet, MI to celebrate Juneteenth which commemorates June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger told the people in Galveston Texas of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued two and a half years earlier on January 1, 1863.

Dr. S. Aisha Steplight Johnson is the Associate Director of the Office of Diversity and Pluralism in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at Michigan State University and is committed to helping diverse people to envision themselves being successful as stewards of the land. Thus she encouraged Phil and Tia Gipson to hold more educational events at their 52-acre farm. The Juneteenth Celebration on the Gipson farm was a successful educational and culturally relevant event that brought people together from near and far to reflect upon what Juneteenth means in the context of African American History.  Steplight Johnson states, “My favorite parts were when Hazel Gipson of Chicago shared about her childhood memories of her mother growing food, canning food, and making clothes and quilts, and when Rev. Larry McCoy of Benton Harbor, MI spoke about the years he and others spent having to go through back doors so that the youth of today would not have to but rather could aspire to be anything they want in life.”  Kwamena Kmensah, President of the Board of Directors, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) reflects that, “It was a spiritual and historic occasion. For me the highlight was the sunrise reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and the in-depth discussion immediately following. We listened to stories from ‘down-south’ and our Farm Manager Nefer Ra gave a historic overview and explanation about the mission of DBCFSN.”
DBCFSN runs an urban farm in Detroit’s Rouge Park called D-Town and Farm Manager Nefer Ra shares that, “There was something about celebrating with our brothers and sisters on the other side of the state that was intriguing to me. And when I heard that there was going to be a Sunrise Ceremony, I knew I had to be there.  During the Sunrise Ceremony, I imagined how our ancestors felt the morning after the news came to them about their freedom. As the ceremony continued, we read the Emancipation Proclamation followed by an in-depth discussion. Songs about freedom were sung and we listened eagerly as our elders shared stories about slavery and share-cropping in the deep South. We met our extended family from Chicago, Watervliet, Lansing, Pennsylvania and as far south as Georgia!  It was a great ‘family reunion’!  Great job Phil and Tia Gibson. Thank you for opening your farm to us and we look forward to many more Juneteenth celebrations with you all. Thank you Dr. Johnson for inviting us and you have been a blessing to us here in Detroit.”
The Gipsons moved from Chicago to Watervliet  in November 1997 so they would have more space and options for serving the community. Their work with the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ men’s prison ministry  at the Cook County Jail in Chicago revealed that many African American males lack preparation for life leading to poor decisions, acts of desperation and incarceration.  
Therefore, they use the Agape Life Skills Center as a means to address spiritual conditions, attitudes, social isolation and poverty.  Phil and Tia  tell us  that, “In our search to find ways to prepare our young people for life we were trying to reinvent the wheel and realized that there were already wheels invented such as 4-H. Most people think that 4-H is just about farm kids and animals. But 4- H gives young people an early introduction to American industry. 4-H gives advantaged farm children an added edge. But for disadvantaged children, it gives them a chance at success. By opening up a broader window of opportunity, it will give them the ability to make better choices. The majority of the children in our 4- H club reside in Benton Harbor, Michigan.” The Gipsons would like to use their farm to facilitate programming for organizations who are dealing with agriculture related issues, and state, “We need to collaborate with other agencies and individuals about agricultural empowerment especially when it comes to our youth.”