Dr. Danielle Deloatch and Twyla Lee

Journey to Juneteenth: Understanding Its Significance and Promoting Equity in Education

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Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. 

Observed on June 19th, it marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved people were now free. This announcement came more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed enslaved people in the Southern states. Juneteenth has since evolved into a celebration of African American and Black culture, heritage, and joy. 

Embracing Juneteenth: A Personal Journey

By Danielle Deloatch

It is understandable that some people, regardless of their background, may not have been taught about Juneteenth in their early education. My journey to embracing Juneteenth occurred later in life due to a lack of exposure, a sentiment echoed by many who were educated in systems that may not have adequately covered African American history and culture. The history of African Americans and their contributions to American society has often been overlooked or marginalized in traditional education systems. Learning about Juneteenth and understanding its significance can be a powerful awakening to the complexities of American history and the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

Juneteenth serves as a reminder of both the injustices of the past and the resilience and perseverance of African Americans in the face of adversity. It is not just a celebration of freedom from slavery but also a call to action for social justice and equality for all. By upholding and celebrating Juneteenth, people of all races can honor the struggles and achievements of African Americans and work together towards a more inclusive and equitable society. The journey of learning and growth is valuable not only for personal understanding but also for fostering greater empathy and solidarity across communities. Our youths are in desperate need of a stable foundation, which begins by seeing themselves from the eyes of people who resemble them.

It is never too late to learn and embrace aspects of history that may have been previously overlooked or omitted. My call to action for you, for me, for our community is to be open to revisiting history. This will hopefully allow us to contribute to the broader effort of recognizing and honoring the diverse experiences and contributions of all individuals and communities.

A Lifelong Experience with Juneteenth

By Twyla Lee

My journey to Juneteenth has not been a journey at all, but rather a lifelong experience. I come from a family of teachers. My grandmother, great aunts, father, and mother were all educators, and for as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by education. Growing up, my mother was in college working to complete her bachelor’s degree, and my father was taking classes for his Ph.D., so I was always exposed to history, current events, protesting, volunteering, learning, and being challenged to be a thinker.

As a social studies teacher for years, I tried different ways to get students to love history like I do. Through trial, error, and occasional success, I conceived the idea to combine community resources fairs and pop-up shop models to create awareness of Juneteenth with the Juneteenth Pop-up at the Dellwood Rink in 2021. Unbeknownst to me, the same year of my first Juneteenth event, President Biden made Juneteenth an official holiday. Since 2021, the City of Dellwood Juneteenth Celebration has grown into a festival, gaining more media attention and promoting awareness and discussion about Juneteenth.

The mission of JuneteenthSTL is to highlight the importance of being informed and connected. Juneteenth represents endless possibilities for what can be. It is also an annual real-life reminder of how detrimental it can be when you are uninformed and not connected. As a high school social studies teacher, I have encountered countless exchanges with students stating, “I did not know,” “This was a long time ago,” or “Why does it matter?” These questions often lead to the assumption that students did not pay attention when topics like the Election of 1860, the Civil War, or the Abolitionist Movement were taught. However, our students' “lack of knowing” could stem from not understanding the relevance, not feeling connected, and possibly due to textbooks used.

For example, Juneteenth is an American holiday, but people continue to want to use the Red, Black, and Green Pan African Flag to celebrate it, as if Major General Gordon Granger did not read the proclamation of freedom for slaves in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. This shows a widespread misconception of an American historical event and holiday. People may have this misconception because of how American history and African American history have been taught separately, as if they are distinct. Continuous textbooks and school curriculums have devalued the contributions and acts of Black people to the point that significant Black figures and their contributions to American society from early American history are barely mentioned in textbooks. Crispus Attucks who?

To me, Juneteenth is a time when all Americans can celebrate a change of course, the ability to move from being uninformed to sharing information in seconds, and the connection between today and our past. Juneteenth is also an annual time to get it right: to tell the truth, share our stories, build community, commemorate, and celebrate our past and how far we have come as a nation. It is also a reminder that we still have work to do and how much better we could be by being honest about our nation’s history, acknowledging that the founding fathers did not get it right, and ensuring that the stories, lives, and contributions of slaves are told as joyfully as the story of winning the American Revolution. My journey to Juneteenth is ongoing because we need time to come together, assess, and plan how we can become more equitable, unified, and uplifting.

Promoting Equity in Education Through Juneteenth

The celebration of Juneteenth offers a critical opportunity to address equity in education. By incorporating the history and significance of Juneteenth into the educational curriculum, educators can provide students with a more comprehensive understanding of American history. This inclusion fosters a sense of pride and identity among African American students and educates all students about the injustices of slavery and the importance of freedom and equality.

Educational initiatives surrounding Juneteenth can serve as a springboard for broader discussions on race, equity, and inclusion. Schools and institutions can use this day to host workshops, panels, and discussions that tackle issues such as systemic racism, the legacy of slavery, and the importance of cultural competence. These educational efforts are vital in promoting a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students.

Conclusion

The journey to Juneteenth, as shared by Dr. Danielle Deloatch and Twyla Lee, is a testament to the resilience and determination of African Americans in their fight for freedom and equality. As we celebrate this significant day, it is crucial to acknowledge its historical context, cultural significance, and the vital role it can play in promoting equity in education. By integrating Juneteenth into our educational framework, we can honor the past, educate the present, and inspire a future grounded in justice and equity.

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