How to Teach and Empower Kids about Juneteenth

By cameron whitten, CEO of racial justice nonprofit Brown Hope and Co-Founder of the Black Resilience Fund, and Victoria Powell, Communications Manager at Brown Hope

On June 19, we honor the fight for Black liberation by celebrating Juneteenth. Family and tradition are cornerstones of this holiday; elder generations teaching Black heritage to the youth is what keeps these traditions alive. From sharing meals like barbeque beef brisket and okra to wearing traditional African prints, Black liberation is family, Black liberation is just, and Black freedom is jubilee.

But first, what is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the celebration of Black freedom, originating from when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, first heard that Confederate troops had surrendered to the Union on June 19, 1865. It commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States, which came more than two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The holiday derives its name from the combination of June and 19. Other names include Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or Juneteenth Independence Day.

Initial Juneteenth celebrations in Galveston, Texas, and other areas of the South, focused on bringing the descendants of enslaved people’s families together. Over the years, as the holiday’s popularity grew, Juneteenth evolved into a pilgrimage to Galveston with an annual celebration in Emancipation Park, including singing spirituals and prayer meetings. In addition, celebrants wore new clothes to represent newfound freedom. Today, 156 years later, the observance of Juneteenth is widespread throughout the country, ranging from business closures to community gatherings and parties. 

Juneteenth 2021 is a time of healing.

June 19, 2020 proved to be a much different holiday, marked by George Floyd’s killing. Though pandemic restrictions prevented many community celebrations, thousands of people acted through protest and demonstration. And while the Black community’s fight for freedom did not originate during the social and economic strife of the past year, the result has been legislative, social, and communal change worldwide. As such, June 19, 2021, is uniquely special—it is a day of joyous healing and togetherness.

What can you do?

Black history is an integral part of American history, and celebrating can take many forms for people outside of the Black community. The best way to support your neighbors and appreciate the significance of Juneteenth is to get involved, take action and participate in efforts that center on Black liberation. Here’s a list of how you and your family can get involved and celebrate Juneteenth in your local community:

  1. Expose your kids to Black history events and culture in your community:
  2. Support Black-owned businesses and organizations such as:
    • Black Parent Initiative (BPI) educates and mobilizes the parents and caregivers of African American and African American Multi-cultural children to ensure they achieve success.
    • Mutual Aid, a Brown Hope program, creates New Apartment Kits for Black Portlanders fleeing domestic violence, recovery, or transitioning out of homelessness to provide essentials for their new space.
    • Over 100 Portland-based businesses, including Powell’s Books and Migration Brewing Company, are donating up to 100% of their Juneteenth weekend sales to support the Black Resilience Fund’s mission.
  3. Participate and support local Juneteenth events:

About cameron whitten

At the age of eighteen, cameron whitten (all pronouns) worked themself out of youth homelessness in Portland and has spent the past decade giving back to the same community that was here when they needed it most. cameron has been a leader in several movements for social change, served as the Executive Director of Q Center, and is currently the CEO of racial justice nonprofit Brown Hope and Co-Founder of the Black Resilience Fund. They serve on the board of REACH CDC and Pioneer Courthouse Square.

About Victoria Powell

Victoria Ivy Powell (she/her/hers) was inspired to take action for her community after serving as a peer facilitator at the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in 2012. Since then, she has continued her involvement in diversity initiatives at her respective institutions. Victoria serves as the Communications Manager for Brown Hope.

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