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Honoring Juneteenth in 2021

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

As a community, we at the University of Utah, are grappling with how we create access and opportunity for all through education, research and practice. That has led us to have difficult conversations about community and representation. Celebrations like Juneteenth help us to hit the pause button and think of what we can change and how we can best show up. It also helps us know that even when we fail, make a mistake or a misstep, we can acknowledge it and develop ways to be better.

History of Juneteenth

June 19, 2021, marks 156 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, which represented the end of slavery in the United States, was recognized in the state of Texas following news that the Civil War had ended. Juneteenth has been celebrated now for 155 years.

The black social reformer, abolitionist, orator writer and statesman Frederick Douglass, in his famous declaration on July 5, 1852, asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

It was 11 years later, on Jan. 1, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect. However, the effects of the proclamation moved slowly through a nation still in turmoil from the Civil War where news traveled by ear. In Texas, more than 250,000 people remained enslaved for two more years when the news finally reached them in 1865.

On June 19, 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger, issued General Order No. 3 declaring the freedom of all enslaved people in Texas and the start of a true independence day for formerly enslaved people across the entire nation. While true equality is yet to be achieved, Juneteenth would mark the day where the dream of being free turned into reality and that hope for a better and equal life could begin.

This year Juneteenth, we asked our Black community the question: “What does Juneteenth mean to you?” Below are what some of our community members had to say.

Jess Turuc

Juneteenth means to me that we are honoring our ancestors' legacies, celebrating freedom each step of the way and acknowledging the history of the treatment of Black people in our country. Our ancestors built this country as well as being innovators, healers, educators and believers who wanted equality and hoped for freedom.

Juneteenth should not only be a time for us, as a country, to reflect on the past but to also think about the racial reckoning that we are currently enduring. Imagine if we all (White, Brown, Black, purple, polka-dotted folx) worked together to elevate out of this racial reckoning and be in a better place. A place our ancestors, and future family members, could be proud of.  As a biracial woman, I believe that we must remain committed to the work ahead to uphold our ancestors' hope for an equitable future and continue to fight for respect and freedom.

Steven Bell

To me, Juneteenth means that my great-grandparents were allowed, by law/policy, to begin clearing a path for me to explore and succeed. My great-grandparents, who I did not know, and my grandparents, who I knew well, only needed the opportunity to become agents of their lives and their family. My grandparents had the courage to battle and succeed through "Jim Crow" and raised children, my parents, aunt and uncles, who continued to clear the path. I am the beneficiary of the hard work done before me, summoning my courage to face the racist challenges to better my life and the life of my family, nuclear and extended.

As a native of Utah, Juneteenth is the annual celebration where I reconnect and fellowship with the Black people I grew up with. Those who have lost contact with or just haven't seen for a year. Juneteenth is the time when I step back and look at the youth of the Black community. I proudly reflect on the past when I was "comin' up." As the "OG," I dream of the future and what it holds for the youngsters. Juneteenth is a glorious time to celebrate being Black.

Montelleo D. Hobley Jr.

Juneteenth to me is the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. This historic day gives me such pride, self-development and helps me to remain grounded and connected to my roots. While many know that Lincoln's proclamation did not really free all enslaved people, it was a step in the right direction.

Each year on Juneteenth, I take time to celebrate and commemorate by enjoying a feast of rich soul food recipes passed down within my family. I oftentimes hold space by inviting friends and family members to come together.

Bryan S. Hubain

Although I am not “American,” Juneteenth has signified a common hope across the Black and African diaspora that one day we can be seen as equal. Where my life can be just as important as my White brethren. The last stanza in Maya Angela’s poem, “Still I Rise” captures the hopefulness, grit, and perseverance of Black people.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

The meaning of true freedom in 1865 for enslaved people in Texas was Juneteenth. The vision of what freedom and Juneteenth are has evolved. In the midst of covert and overt attacks on Black lives, Black people dance and celebrate life. Our very being moves with the rhythm of our ancestors singing. Our heartbeats represent the drumming of our ancestors creating music. Our very existence through time and to this day are representative of our ancestors’ resistance. And it is with this hope, I remain persistent in doing social justice, diversity and inclusion work. Juneteenth every year and in the future is us…rising!