While Juneteenth is normally celebrated on June 19, UTD’s Multicultural Center decided to get the party started early by rejoicing and reflecting African-American culture and history June 16 in the Galaxy Rooms.
“I’d say there are over 200 people because I can tell by the food,” said Arthur Gregg, director of the Multicultural Center. “It’s the kind of Juneteenth celebration that I grew up with in a small, small community with kids, balloons, popcorn, music, bake-offs and art … just fun, a fun atmosphere.”
Juneteenth is the oldest known event celebrating the end of slavery.
Slaves in Texas were unaware of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the executive order. They were not told until the arrival of General Granger’s regiment June 19, 1865 – two years later.
Juneteenth celebrates African-American freedom and today encourages the self-development and respect for all cultures.
UTD’s celebration opened up with a prayer led by Baba Ifyaomi Fagbenro, co-owner of Freedom Arts Studios, who shared strong and inspiring words with the people symbolized by pouring water from a pitcher onto a plant.
After the prayer, everyone stood up and joined together in singing the Negro National Anthem accompanied by Congas and other African drums.
Activities such as music, dancing, mime skits, a bake-off, art displays, information tables, barbecue and games also took place, and were attended by adolescents and adults from both on- and off-campus.
Director of Education for the Act of Change Institute of Cultural Arts Pamela Hill said Juneteenth is significant not only as a day of celebration, but as a day of educating and understanding the meaning of African-American history.
“It is important that we inform our children,” Hill said. “Children need to know the history because often we don’t know our history, other people don’t know our history and we cannot rely on others to educate us.”
Hill, whose great-great grandmother suffered from the harmful and destructive environment of slavery, shared a story her grandmother told her in the celebration. In her speech, she declared Juneteenth as a “National Emancipation day for Africans everywhere.” She said she sees the significance of Juneteenth as not only a day of celebration, but also as a day of educating and understanding the meaning of African-American history and culture.
Fagbenro agreed that the education of history and culture helps bring the community together to celebrate Juneteenth.
“All people need to venerate their ancestors. All cultures do it and in Africa-America we are now on the verge of a resurgence of that type of institution in our own community, ancestral reverences everywhere in the African-American community and I think we should look upon it as a very good thing,” Fagbenro said.