Celebrating Juneteenth at Camp

Celebrating Juneteenth at Camp

Sunday, June 19th, 2022 marks the first time Juneteenth will be celebrated as a national holiday in the United States. It is the first new federal holiday since MLK Day was created in 1983. Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the United States. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but at the time folks were not made privy to this news and some southern slave owners ignored the Emancipation Proclamation.

 The Civil War would go on for two more years until 1865. Union soldiers would have to ride through the South to make sure the Proclamation was being enforced. On June 19th, 1865 they arrived at their final destination in Galveston, Texas where Major General Gordon Granger issued an order announcing that enslaved people were then free. 

Freed Peoples would celebrate that day in Texas the following year, calling it Jubilee Day. Juneteenth would go on to become a state holiday in Texas in 1980. Then, this wave spread across other states. Juneteenth continues to be the oldest known tradition honoring the end of slavery in the United States

Juneteenth became even more well known during BLM protests when calls for it to become a national holiday grew. President Biden signed the bill making it a federal holiday in June 2021.  

Quotes sourced from: National Geographic; Good Luck America

In honor of Juneteenth, many camps are pondering the best ways to honor and celebrate this historic moment.  And as I think about the ways to do this mindfully, I come across a dilemma. Many communities and organizations (in particular to white, non-Black, POC communities ) must be mindful of the identities we hold when it comes to celebrating this day of Emancipation for Black folks in this country. If we are not mindful, we will just be replicating how larger systems co-opt this holiday without a real reckoning or understanding of why this holiday needs to be honored in the first place. 

So I must do what many may feel is the opposite of Inclusion, but I believe there must be two different calls to action for White and non-Black people of color and Black folks on this day at camps. 

I challenge white and non- Black folks to use this day as a way to honor and re-educate themselves on the history of this day and root it in action versus passive celebration. If you are a white or non-Black POC  leader of a majority Black space, I urge you to let those voices be centered and decide how to best celebrate. The following ways to celebrate are targeted towards predominantly white spaces. which many of our camps are. Black folks know how to celebrate and will create those spaces for ourselves

1. Educate the larger camp community on the history and significance of this day. This day has not been a part of mainstream history for generations, as many celebrated the fourth of July as the official day of Independence for this country. But this is yet another way in which we have been taught to see history through a white supremacist lens. Honoring the end of slavery as the true testament of independence and liberation in the country will offer a new frame to your young people and staff about the history of this country. It is also important to note the true history of the Emancipation Proclamation as a strategic move over a morally coded decision. And to highlight the fact that remnants of enslavement still exist through mass incarceration. 

Be as creative as possible in sharing the history of this day using: articles, workshops, children's books, online videos sharing both the history and examples of Juneteenth celebrations throughout the years, or have a guest speaker do a story share. This is a time to bring this history to life. There may be moments that are difficult to share, especially around the realities of slavery, but we must not skip over this history and focus just on the celebration. This history must also be shared, criticized, and processed for young people and staff. Prepare accordingly with those prepared and capable to do so. 

2. Have staff and young people reflect on ways to continue to be allies to the Black community and share personal and collective commitments to this work. This is a great moment of reflection for individuals and communities, especially those from white and non-Black POC communities to learn about the struggles that persist today in the Black community as a result of generations of slavery. This can be transformed into a day of action against injustice. Folks can decide what their camp will commit to as allies and accomplices as an action in support of the continued liberation of Black folks. Take direction and leadership from those who are on the front lines that share exactly what needs to be done. Research those leaders and follow suit. The fight for reparations can be a start. 

 3. Offer space for Black staff members to reflect on the significance of this day in an affinity space. This is one day that holds a ton of significance so being mindful of this and asking Black staff their input on how they would most like to celebrate would be imperative. For many, this time will be spent away from home and community celebrations in their own communities, so offering some space to celebrate would be amazing. 

4. Make it a half-day or day off where folks can honor or celebrate this special day. This is a holiday. So it deserves the same reverence as many would give the Fourth of July. Revisit your celebrations for the Fourth of July in honor of respecting this true history of Juneteenth.

5. As leadership, take an audit of the ways that Black folks and other people of color have either had access to a safe or unsafe space at your camps and create a strategic plan on what this can look like for future summers to share a true investment in the horning of this day but also Black lives at your very camp. Commit to anti-racist work with your organization and challenge the ways this is not present at all levels of the organization.

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Simone GambleSimone Gamble


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