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Juneteenth 2021: Community leaders say 2020 helped catapult holiday into national spotlight

Posted: 12:43 PM, Jun 18, 2021
Updated: 2021-06-21 12:53:05-04

Juneteenth celebrations have been a time-honored tradition in the Black community. But this year, there's a change in the air as people from all walks of life join in on the festivities.

“Previously it was primarily celebrated by Black people and their families. They might, for example, have a picnic or a barbecue. Mostly just, you know, family-related events, and then you might have a few events in the park. But this year, I am seeing more shows of solidarity where you're seeing groups collaborate and come up with these fun activities," explained Mia Moody-Ramirez, professor and chair with the Baylor Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media.

From businesses to universities, many Central Texas entities are dedicating time and resources to celebrating the holiday and its deeper meaning.

“It's very important for us to celebrate as a Baylor family because this year... we had a commission that actually looked at the history, at Baylor's history during the period of enslavement. We've had various committees study those types of things. So I just see this event as being an evolution of that as well," Moody-Ramirez reflected.

It is even being recognized on a national scale.

Legislation to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday quickly rose through Congress with bipartisan support. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed it into law.

“It seemed to me that this was all so important as a, not only just to learn our history and have an appreciation of how far we've come, but also as a symbol of the importance of us working together as Americans for a, for a better America. The constitution talks about us not being perfect, but striving to be a more perfect union,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

But why the change? Juneteenth is one of our nation's oldest holidays, yet many are unaware of its significance.

From the death of George Floyd and other unarmed Black Americans to COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected people of color, activists say the events of 2020 have forced Americans to re-evaluate.

“Black history is American history, as much as Hispanic history or Asian history. Whatever has happened on American soil is American history that we should all concern ourselves with. Even when it comes from the darkest of times, we should still take lessons from our history," said Rachel E. Pate, vice president of the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce.

For us to move forward, we must acknowledge our past.

“Many people think that with the Emancipation Proclamation, that all, it's like people were free and they could do whatever they wanted to do at that time. But that was not the case for Texas. They did not find out until two years later when soldiers arrived in Galveston and they told them of their freedom," said Moody-Ramirez. “The more that people celebrate and acknowledge Juneteenth, the more visibility it receives, then the more importance people will attribute to Juneteenth.”

Once we accept the past, community leaders say we can all collectively move forward to a new and better place.

“For generations, we've been a part of this community, even during the time of slavery. And for me, it feels, it feels incredible to know the history and look at where I myself have been able to come, where other family members have been able to go, where my son could go because of the sacrifices," Pate reflected.

While Juneteenth only lasts 24 hours, Moody-Ramirez says its essence should be remembered year-round.

“It's just like Black History Month. Black History Month is in February, which is the shortest month of the year. But as, as a scholar and as a historian and as a writer, I encourage people to celebrate Black history year-round," she said.

For many, the celebration of Juneteenth is personal, yet its significance is often summarized with one word.

“Juneteenth for me means freedom and opportunity. It was freedom for those in my family, in our history, in our culture that did not have it before that day. It was a declaration of freedom for them, and because of that, I have the opportunity, and my son and other children and future generations have opportunities that started from that moment that we didn't have access to, that we had to continue to earn," said Pate.

2021 Juneteenth Celebrations

The Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce is celebrating Juneteenth with a parade through Waco.

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“Our [parade] theme is Together We Rise, and that means, you know, no one can move forward if we don't all move forward. You know, if you're the one rich person and the rest of us are starving, then how happy and content can you be? So it is about, you know, thinking about each other. It is about looking out for not only your best interests, but the interests of your brother or your sister, whomever they may be, and how we can all, you know, move the needle, turn the tide and do things together," Pate explained.

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For more information on the parade, click here.