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Connective Issues: A UMass Chan diversity and inclusion blog

Juneteenth holiday an opportunity to learn about African American history

Tuesday, June 14, 2022
By:  Janjay Innis

The second commemoration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday takes place Sunday, June 19. Considered the longest running African American holiday in the United States, Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to ensure that all who were enslaved were set free, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The federal holiday is being observed Monday, June 20.

The national reckoning over race and the public discourse it demanded set the backdrop for Juneteenth's passage from bill to law last year. It is the first new federal holiday since the addition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Juneteenth is being embraced by organizations, municipalities and institutions, which are holding celebrations and providing how to guides for observing the day. While the event is getting the rightful attention it deserves, observances such as Walmart’s release of its now recalled Juneteenth ice cream, intended to capitalize on the holiday, points to ways we can easily lose track of what we are celebrating and why. As with many holidays that tend to lose their meaning when they become part of mainstream culture, the onus is on all of us to honor Juneteenth and holidays like it by developing a collective awareness of what they mean and by being intentional about the ways we celebrate.  

When we acknowledge that African Americans have thrived despite systemic barriers and still have a long way to go because of those same barriers, we fully honor Juneteenth.

At UMass Chan Medical School, this should manifest in the ways we proudly point to the programs and funding we have set in place that give African American students an opportunity to explore their gifts through the study and practice of medicine and science and by pushing ourselves to do something about the low representation of those students among us. Also, this should manifest in the way we boast about the African American faculty and staff whose expertise and world views enhance our community and through our avid advocacy for their continued hiring and promotion.

This Juneteenth and beyond, the opportunities to build awareness of the holiday are endless. Whether you celebrate freedom by supporting Black businesses, by attending public events or by learning about African American history and culture, simply make your celebration intentional.