Commemorating Juneteenth

The latest reflection organized by Assistant to the President for Mission Integration Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos:

Members of the university community are gathering in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters—students, faculty, staff, administrators, contractors and members of the greater Detroit community—as we celebrate Juneteenth, the national holiday initiated to commemorate the end of slavery across America. While the struggles of African Americans in our country did not cease with the end of slavery, we take this time to reflect and observe the steps taken in our nation’s history to liberate the men, women, and children who long-suffered under the “evil of racism.”

A reflection on Juneteenth

Amber Johnson, Director of TRIO

On June 19, 1865, the wonderful, but tragically delayed news of emancipation reached those enslaved in Galveston, Texas. This day would become known as Juneteenth, an annual holiday commemorating the enforcement of the end of slavery in America.

Imagine being free for two whole years and not knowing it. Picture those in power benefiting from free labor, separated families, and bloodshed.

Now, one hundred and fifty-five years later, I can’t help but consider the overwhelming parallels found in the current U.S. racial climate. Imagine someone trying to convince you that the everyday injustices that Black communities experience are mere coincidence and not the remnants of slavery. Imagine being disproportionately impacted by wage inequities, a global health pandemic, and police violence. Envision going for a run and never making it home, being met with weapons and tear gas for peacefully protesting, and asking your government to acknowledge and demonstrate that your life unequivocally matters and hearing blaring silence. Imagine your opportunities being limited due to the color of your skin. These are not coincidences. They ARE the remnants of slavery.

Too many lives have been taken or fallen short of their potential in the racial divide that has plagued this country for years. So, whether you choose to view Juneteenth as a celebration or solemn commemoration, it is inarguably a call to action. The fierce urgency of the matter calls this day to be a day of reflection, helping, and healing–whether it’s having a courageous conversation, participating in a protest advocating for social justice, or actively standing in solidarity with the Black community.

As a university community, we have an obligation to be a part of the solution, in helping to educate society on this topic and most importantly encouraging action. What will you do to support the spirit of Juneteenth?

Ways to celebrate/commemorate Juneteenth

As was discussed in the first Courageous Conversations Zoom call, action starts with each of us—learning on our own and finding ways to channel our individual energies, talents, and desires to make the world a better place for people of color in our country. We still have a long way to go, so perhaps this moment will create an opening for you to take a step in the right direction for this common goal.

A “pause” on June 19 at 6 p.m. for 19 minutes

As we work to improve our community from within, with regard to living the Mission of our university and living with a better understanding of what actions are necessary to be antiracist in our country, we hope you will join us (from the comfort of your own space) at 6 p.m. for 19 minutes on Friday, June 19 as we each reflect individually on the significance of this holiday. While we acknowledge 19 minutes isn’t equivalent to the time commitment needed to overcome centuries of oppression, it is still important for us to channel our collective and resounding energy and spirit in the directions of justice, equality, and freedom.

Consider the following moment of individual action and reflection:

For 19 minutes, starting at 6 p.m., we encourage you to reflect and observe in your own way as we each set aside this time in our days, in solidarity with one another, in collective remembrance of the centuries of terror and oppression endured by enslaved Black Americans. Examples of what you could do are below:

  • Silent prayer or meditation
  • Reading of verse, scripture or other texts that evoke ideas of freedom and empowerment
  • Singing songs that are meaningful to you, or playing music that is uplifting and healing
  • Journaling your thoughts about how slavery, and the end of slavery, has impacted you or someone you know
  • Writing a poem, song or creating art that channels your energy and desire for true freedom and healing
  • Talking to someone about the impacts of slavery and the ongoing struggles of Black Americans
  • Reading and reflecting on an historical text that deals with Juneteenth or an aspect of slavery or the end of slavery that you would like to learn more about
  • Joining the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Digital March: “Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington
  • Joining other solidarity gatherings in your community, virtually or in person (with safety precautions)
  • Another manifestation of reflection and remembrance that you might be drawn to

No matter what you do, or even if you do it at another time during the day, on a different day, or during this collective time of remembrance that we propose, we ask that you consider sharing your experience with us at our next Courageous Conversation Zoom call with the Detroit Mercy community – perhaps you could share an excerpt from your journaling session, or read us the poem you wrote, or you could tell us how it went when you talked about Juneteenth with a friend, etc.

A Tale of Two Towers: An Open Letter and Call to Action from Pearis L. Bellamy and Della V. Mosley, PhD

In their open letter, Bellamy and Mosley “invite our white academic colleagues to give up some of your privilege (e.g., research productivity) during this week. Instead of advancing your own work, begin or continue the lifelong journey toward critical consciousness of anti-Black racism.”

They also “lovingly challenge Black academics to rest, resist, and take advantage of our Black wellness and survival related resources.”

Through their website’s resources (Academics for Black Survival and Wellness), Bellamy and Mosley ask that the academic community, “Join with fellow academics across the globe for a week of training (e.g., readings, lectures) and accountability (e.g., personal reflections, group dialogue).”

The University of Detroit Mercy is committed to fighting racism in our community and building opportunities for learning, growth and action.

In solidarity,

Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos