Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tamara Stevenson's Message on Juneteenth National Holiday
June 17, 2021
Congress passed a bill this week to make Juneteenth (a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth”) a legal public holiday. However, it was sacredly celebrated every year on June 19 in Black communities across the country to commemorate the legal end of chattel slavery in the United States. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill to designate June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Laws and dates matter when talking about freedom in the United States. For example, July 4, 1776, is the widely accepted date of this country’s day of independence. However, a quick mathematical computation reveals that it would be another 87 years before then-President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation (in conjunction with the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery) and an additional 2 years, 5 months, and 18 days before enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, got the news of their (semi-newly-) freed human status. In other words, freedom wasn't available to all human beings on America's colonized shores in 1776.
Broader attention about Juneteenth occurred in 2020 following several virally publicized incidents of law enforcement-involved deaths of Black Americans earlier that year, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery, prompting President Beth Dobkin to offer a statement acknowledging the significance of the holiday along with the collective responsibility to reckon with “our country’s conflicted relationship with a racist past,” including the “structures, practices, and cultural tropes embedded in the fabric of our country….” The remnants of America’s racist past continue to affect present-day lived experiences and outcomes of us all, particularly for the most vulnerable among us.
Learn More About Juneteenth
- Watch: VOX's "Why all Americans should honor Juneteenth"
- Consider: Is this week's congressional approval to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday an empty or “tokenized” victory given that more impactful bills await passage? For example, consider H.R.7120 - George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, the failure of H.R.35 - Emmett Till Antilynching Act in Congress, and policy efforts such as the minimum wage rate, voting rights protections, student debt forgiveness, and gun reform, all of which would have direct social and economic benefit for Black communities?
Also, how to reconcile the passage of the Juneteenth holiday alongside recent legislative efforts to revise K-12 history and social studies curricula, restrict content on systemic racism and the racialized realities of American history, and require expanded oversight of professional development content for K-12 teachers? Namely, students will be out of school for Juneteenth, but they will either not know why or cannot discuss the meaning of the holiday in school. As reported in Education Week's “Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack,” bills in at least 21 states have been introduced to avoid teaching critical race theory and limit how teachers talk about racism and sexism.
- Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival: Black Joy, presented by Project Success Coalition in partnership with Weber State University (free)
- Salt Lake Juneteenth: Celebrating Black Joy (free)
- Deseret News: "What is Juneteenth? Inside the newest national holiday"
- The International African American Museum: Test your Juneteenth Knowledge!
- Mother Jones: "Critical Race Theory Panic Is Everywhere—Just in Time for Juneteenth"
Your ideas, questions, and suggestions for diversity, equity, and inclusion events, activities, and more are welcome. Reach out to Westminster Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tamara Stevenson at email@example.com.
Tamara N. Stevenson, Ed.D.
Interim Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Chief Diversity Officer
Associate Professor, Communication