Suffolk urges community to observe Juneteenth, take action against racism

June 18, 2020

Suffolk University is encouraging members of its community to observe Juneteenth Friday, and use the day to “reflect, rethink, and respond” to issues of racism. 

Juneteenth is observed each year on June 19, and commemorates the day slaves in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom in 1865. The announcement was made by a Union general two months after the Civil War officially ended, and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into effect. 

Juneteenth’s name comes from the combination of “June” and “nineteenth.” The holiday has also been called “Freedom Day,” “Independence Day” and “Juneteenth Independence Day,” and marks the official end to slavery in the United States. 

But this year, 155 years after it was first observed, Juneteenth comes at an especially poignant time in American history.

The death of George Floyd has sparked protests over police brutality and systemic racism across the country for nearly four weeks. Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died May 25 when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground for nearly nine minutes. 

Floyd joins a long list of Black Americans who have been killed by law enforcement officers, including Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr. and 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks, who was shot and killed at a Wendy’s drive-thru in Atlanta June 12. 

Chauvin and three other officers have since been charged in Floyd’s death, and the officer who shot Brooks was charged with felony murder. Some police reform has also started to take shape at the local and national levels, but many say there is still much more that needs to be done before real change is achieved. 

Suffolk President Marisa Kelly and Joyya Smith, vice president of Diversity, Access and Inclusion at Suffolk, asked the Suffolk community to observe Juneteenth and be part of this change.

Suffolk’s observance of Juneteenth 2020

“In light of all of the racial injustice highlighted by the deaths of Black Americans in the last few months, compounded with the impact of COVID-19 that disproportionately impacts the Black community, Suffolk asks its community members to reflect on racial equity and justice,” Smith and Kelly said in a statement emailed to students Tuesday. 

“Faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to take time this Friday, June 19, to continue our campus conversations around racism and social justice,” the statement said. 

Kelly and Smith said members of the Suffolk community can be agents of change by reflecting on, rethinking, and responding to racism. 

They asked community members to reflect by opening themselves up to others’ perspectives, as well as rethink their own opinions and actions by taking time to learn about racism and its effects. 

They also hope students will respond to racism directly and “champion diversity through [their] behavior.” 

“We are asking you to go beyond just making statements about change and to commit to intentional action,” the statement said. “We all could do something more.” 

Smith and Kelly encouraged community members to attend several virtual events to educate themselves on racism and equality.

Suffolk is hosting a campus-wide event via Zoom on June 23 at 12 p.m. During the event, writer Carole Copeland Thomas will discuss how community members can be aware of unconscious bias, how to understand it and how to prevent it. 

The Center for Teaching and Scholarly Excellence, the Sawyer Library and the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion will host a “campus-wide common reading experience” in which the university will provide community members with a copy of “Just Mercy, a Story of Justice and Redemption,” by Bryan Stevenson for students, faculty, and staff to read together. 

After reading the text, which focuses on racial and social justice, participants will then be able to have discussions about race via Zoom to help them learn from the perspectives of others. 

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts will be live streaming its annual Juneteenth community celebration via Facebook and YouTube on June 19 at 4 p.m. The event will include a panel discussion, a book reading, art-making, a spotlight talk, recitations of speeches, poems and song lyrics, as well as a performance by Débo Ray and DJ Where’s Nasty, curated by BAMS Fest. 

Each portion of the event is intended to educate attendees about Black history, and will honor “the contributions of Black creatives, scholars, and artists to the City of Boston,” according to the museum’s website. 

Juneteenth celebrations in Boston

In 1980, Texas became the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday thanks to the efforts of State Representative Al Edwards, also known as “Mr. Juneteenth.” 

“Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations,” Edwards told Yahoo in 2007. “That’s why we need this holiday.” 

As of Juneteenth 2020, the District of Columbia and 47 states – except for Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota – recognize the day as a holiday or day of observation. 

Many have pushed for Juneteenth to become a more recognized holiday this year following the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and years of police brutality against the Black community

In 2020, multiple companies, including Target, Nike and the NFL, announced they will make Juneteenth a paid holiday for their employees as a way to honor the Black community and encourage employees to learn about Black history.

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also introduced a bill this week that would recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday

In 2007, then-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the first Black governor in the Commonwealth and the only sitting Black governor in the U.S. at the time, officially declared June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day in the state, making Massachusetts the 25th state to do so.  

Three Boston city councilors, including Councilor Andrea Campbell, are pushing for Boston to officially recognize Juneteenth as a city-wide holiday, similar to how the city observes Patriots Day. 

“We should dedicate June 19th to this purpose every year — not only for Black Bostonians to celebrate, but also as a way to allow non-Black residents in Boston to educate themselves on this history and support efforts to dismantle racism and systemic inequities here in Boston,” Campbell tweeted Thursday. 

While Juneteenth has yet to be declared an official holiday in Boston, Juneteenth events that celebrate the Black community and serve as a day of historical remembrance have been held in the city each year. 

The Roxbury Pride Day Juneteenth Celebration is one of the largest Juneteenth events in the city. Since the 1990s, hundreds of Roxbury residents and others have organized a picnic at Franklin Park to celebrate the day. 

Although COVID-19 limits the ways people can gather and celebrate this year, Juneteenth will still be observed by many Bostonians. Virtual events have been scheduled to be held via social media and Zoom, and some in-person events will also take place with safety precautions. 

Boston events include virtual dance parties and poetry readings, as well as protests and marches throughout the city.

Click here for a list of Boston-based Juneteenth events. 

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