Let’s Talk About Juneteenth

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When Adriana Fields, a community participant in our May Race & Equity Community Conversation, was growing up in the 1990s, she revealed on Zoom she didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school. In fact, many on the call said they never learned about Juneteenth in school. 

Adriana learned about this monumental day in history from her community when she was a teenager.

“That was sort of my first learning of what Juneteenth was,” she said. 

Adriana, who went to middle school in Kansas City, attended community Juneteenth celebrations with her friends, and later, her family put the holiday into context by explaining what June 19 symbolizes and gave her tools to lead that conversation herself with her peers.

“Honestly, I think it should be as big as July 4,” she said.

During UICS’ May Race & Equity Community Conversation, Adriana told her story of how Juneteenth awareness has grown within the last few years. She still lives and works in Kansas City, and said she even had coworkers who didn’t know what it meant. 

“I guess a lot of people just kind of live in their own bubble,” Adriana said. “I guess if it doesn’t affect them, why would they care about it?” 

By bringing awareness to the day, we’re creating space for Black history that has been omitted or even misrepresented in educational circles. By celebrating June 19, we’re revisiting history, claiming it, and framing in today’s context. 

Michelle Tyrene Johnson, the special guest facilitator for the  Race and Equity Community Conversation, is a power-house; a diversity consultant, speaker, playwright, writer, and journalist. As a Kansas City native, and former Kansas City Star columnist, she was the perfect expert to lead a discussion on how Juneteenth is connected to our contemporary world and why honoring what the day signifies is key. 

“We don’t want Juneteenth to devolve into this mindless thing we say or do to then avoid the deeper conversations,” Michelle said.

Juneteenth is short for June 19,  the day in 1865 that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to spread the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, two and a half years after the momentous proclamation went into effect. Texas was the last state to receive word about the end of slavery. Meaning that if you were enslaved, something as fundamental as your own freedom would be determined by how quickly information could get to the state in which you lived. This holiday was first celebrated in Texas as an emancipation day, but it has grown to honor all slaves’ emancipation.

“Can you imagine three years without knowing anything?” Michelle said. “We live in a society where you can’t go three minutes without knowing something major is happening.”

It’s hard to imagine communication without a 24-hour news cycle and immediately receiving breaking news. However, news traveling across the nation was heavily dependent on word-of-mouth in the 1800s, trusting a chain of people starting in Washington D.C. to you. Even without modern technology, 30 months was too long to go without hearing this news. 

Michelle reminded us that slave owners and confederates didn’t just stop thinking of Black Americans as property because slavery was abolished. They became fearful of losing money and free labor, and ultimately losing power, leading to news traveling slower to preserve their societal structure.

We see this fear of loss constantly in the short time since slavery ended. This fear of some white people losing power carries through from slavery and the American Civil War, to the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and today when we hear push back against Black Lives Matter (e.g. “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter”). This fear of losing power dictates American history and is why talking about Juneteenth is all the more important. As a community we are sharing in celebrating information. 

Juneteenth is not an easy subject to talk about, but it is necessary. It’s even more necessary with children. If we don’t guide that conversation now, they will hear it somewhere else. It’s up to us to ensure that the next generation learns how integral Black History is to American History.

“I believe you can teach the principles of equity, fairness and righteousness in its basic form to children,” said UICS-Metro Center Director Roberto Diaz on the Zoom call. “This will create a foundation that will shape their thinking when they confront discrimination and inequities in later years.” 

The joy of these crucial conversations comes in community celebration. Juneteenth is a recognition of Black history, culture, and joy, like the events that Adriana attended growing up. UICS is participating in the festivities by marching in the Kansas City Juneteenth parade on Saturday, June 12. We hope you will join us in celebrating Black history and culture. Sign up here to see how you can share in the celebration with UICS! 

If you are a UICS parent/caregiver who wants additional resources to discuss Juneteenth, we made a list which you can access here. Also, please feel free to use our UICS staff as a resource for your little learners’ questions. 

If you missed May’s Race & Equity Community Conversation, please click below.