Commemorating a day of freedom

Juneteenth at UofL
Juneteenth at UofL

It’s a celebration of liberation and freedom, and a powerful reminder of racial and social justice goals yet to be fully realized – the commemoration of Juneteenth reaches every member of the Cardinal family.

“The history is ugly, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. We teach it so people will know what happened and prevent history from repeating itself,” said Master’s Entry into Professional Nursing student Derrick Olanrewaju.

UofL joins numerous colleges and universities that now observe as an official holiday June 19, the day in 1865 when enslaved persons in Texas and other southern states were finally freed – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

“To me this recognition is the university saying that they want to honor the lives of the ancestors who died for us to be free, give reverence to the ancestors still fighting for us to be free and say to the Black community of UofL that our history matters,” said Riece Hamilton, vice president/president-elect of the Black Faculty and Staff Association.

Slavery existed because of racism which scars the past and infiltrates established systems ranging from education and health care to housing and employment.

“Until everyone acknowledges and understands that the United States’ pattern of enslavement and racism still impacts the systems and institutions that prevent equality and equity, we won’t be able to move forward collectively,” said Sydney Finley, executive vice president of the Student Government Association, and vice president of the Black and Brown Honors Society. “The only way these problems will even begin to be addressed on a systematic level is through action by those who hold the sociopolitical and economic power to do so.”

The BFSA worked with the Office of the President to ensure formal recognition of Juneteenth as a university holiday, this year on Friday, June 18, since the holiday falls on a Saturday. The recognition includes a celebration and numerous university events.

“When the words ‘all men are created equal’ were written, it meant only white men. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, ‘[n]obody’s free until everybody’s free.’ Now, we can all observe Juneteenth as a true all-encompassing independence where we support efforts toward anti-racism and social justice,” said BFSA President Carcyle Barrett.

Juneteenth observations extend beyond institutional efforts. Jessica Jackson, a graduate student in the Sports Administration program, says she personally aims to educate and influence others on issues related to discrimination. 

“I hope to lead change by being the change and encouraging the people around me to listen to marginalized and underrepresented groups of people and act accordingly to their needs,” she said.

These growing efforts are providing a sense of optimism. Olanrewaju says he has faith in what the future holds, and is glad to be a part of that hopeful future.

“I wanted to become a nurse to increase representation of Black people in health care,” he says. “I want to be an advocate for patients regardless of their race, religion, identity, socioeconomic status or nationality. I will contribute to lasting change by using the knowledge and training I receive at UofL to achieve those goals.”

Learn more about supporting UofL’s diversity initiatives online here.

Source: Commemorating a day of freedom (UofL News, June 15, 2021)