In June 2021, the US government began to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Starting this year, The Windward School adjusted its own calendar to include the observance of what is considered the oldest celebrated commemoration of the ending of enslavement in the United States. Though the Emancipation Proclamation became law on January 1, 1863, it was not until two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Texas learned the news that the Civil War had ended and that they were free. From that point forward, June 19 has been known amongst African Americans as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day.
Growing up in Venezuela, I had learned about the Fourth of July as the US Independence Day, thus, it came as a surprise when I migrated to the United States and learned about “Black Independence Day” from my African American friends. Perhaps it was expected that as a new immigrant I would not know all the historical facts of my new place of residency; however, a Gallup survey conducted in 2021 confirmed that I was not alone in my unfamiliarity with Juneteenth, as 60% of Americans knew nothing or very little about the holiday. Social scientists have documented how the legacy of enslavement lives with us today. They have also pointed out that while we have come far, there is still much left to go to achieve true equity amongst all people living in this country. The recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday is an important step towards reconciling with our past and moving forward as a nation.
Observing Juneteenth at Windward is more than taking a day off. This move represents the acknowledgment that at The Windward School we are committed to providing “mirrors and windows” for all members of our community. That is, “mirrors” where everyone can see themselves reflected in the books we read, the language we use, the symbols we see, and the way we treat each other; and “windows” that help us gain perspective of the experiences of people who are different from us. We want everyone at Windward to develop a sense of belonging to their school, and this begins by creating space for all of us to be seen in our various identities.
By observing Juneteenth, that also means that we are a school that strives to prepare young people to be active participants in a multicultural democracy by providing them with the skills, tools, and language to advocate for themselves and others, as well as engage in meaningful dialogue about our similarities and differences. Although the school year concludes before Juneteenth occurs in 2022, Windward is demonstrating to its students that our community is one that believes in inclusion and belonging even when they are not physically in school.
To honor Juneteenth, I invite you to take the time to learn more about the history associated with the holiday, uplift the stories of Black people, and reflect on what it means to you. Here are three recommendations to learn more about Juneteenth:
1. Visit the virtual programing organized by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History at nmaahc.si.edu/juneteenth.
2. Read the book On Juneteenth by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annette Gordon-Reed.
3. Read The Juneteenth Story by Alliah L. Agostini with younger readers.