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Humans of the U: Jason Ramirez on ‘Juneteenth’

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.

“As the nation and our communities continue to fight an invisible foe in COVID-19, we are also faced with the devastating murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Calls to action have been raised again to fight the injustices that our communities of color face. Their deaths are, far too often, found in the narrative of our marginalized and underrepresented communities. And this is where we find ourselves. On a precipice of another movement that our communities, university, and country have faced too many times: A call for civil rights.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It was on June 19, 1865— nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect—when the news was brought to the people of Texas that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free. In 2019, the NAACP, in conjunction with the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, officially proclaimed June 19 to be “Juneteenth Day” at the 30th annual Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival.

History has shown that many founding American colleges and universities have historic ties to the slave trade. Our founding universities were literally built on the backs of enslaved people by offsetting costs through the utilization of slaves. As a university community, we must recognize and honor these moments in history. We must never forget the struggles that our Black, African and African American communities have faced.

I, like many others, have found myself searching for meaningful ways to utilize my privilege and my ability to be an ally to help bring light and support to the Black Lives Matter campaigns. But like many, I worry that words, images and hashtags fall short and are performative at best.

The University of Utah has faced these challenges many times in the past and as recently as 2015 established the “13 Responses” initiative. While progress has been made toward those goals, we know the work is never finished. We have to continue growing the efforts of the anti-racism committee under the One U Thriving model. We will continue to spread awareness of these events and continue to fight for policies and programs that protect our students, staff, faculty and community.

So, how do we move forward? I’ve started by sitting with my family and explaining to my two children what is going on in the world. Like a lot of parents, I have tried to shelter my teenage son and adolescent daughter from the harsh realities of the world they are growing up in. I believe this is one area where we, as a society, can do better. By sheltering my children from the realities of our world, I was not acknowledging the issues or educating them to be and do better.

They had many questions. Innocent questions. And the more we discussed as a family, the more my children yearned for understanding. An understanding of what happened in the past, as well as an understanding of how “we” can make a difference for the future. Theirs is the next generation of change, after all.

During the conversation, we talked about activism, peaceful assembly, and love and support for our diverse neighbors and friends. As we conversed, I saw determination building in the eyes of my children. The desire for justice and equity rising in their minds and hearts reinvigorated my hope and passion.

So, I will continue to sit with my family and discuss the systemic oppression and cruelty that so many have faced. We will honor those who have fought for so much by educating and changing the things we can. Although a small start, education has always been an opportunity to set the future. Where in the past educational systems have been used for oppression, we must change that mindset and use them for liberation.

And although COVID-19 has us many months away from being able to gather, please help our community be heard by sharing in celebration and education in your homes about this important moment in time.

Happy Juneteenth!”

— Jason Ramirez, Dean of Students, University of Utah
father, son, husband, friend, mentor and proud Mexican/Korean American