2020 has been a year unlike any other, and yet all too familiar.
While our country has grappled with the response to an international pandemic, a rise in xenophobia directed towards Asians and Asian-Americans, and skyrocketing unemployment – the uncomfortable reality of racialized disparity has persisted. This has been a year of instability, loss, fear and frustration that has disproportionately affected communities of color. As a world, as a society, as an institution, we are only now beginning to understand the multitude of impacts – short and long-term – this era will have on people.
The last few weeks have also seen a resurgence of violence directed toward Black people – the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, and George Floyd have reignited conversations about Black lives and systems that devalue them.
How, then, can we celebrate a day of liberation when this moment in time leaves many feeling true freedom is further out of reach than ever?
Juneteenth is a day of awakening, awareness and accountability for freedoms promised and denied – much like now. On June 19, 1865 enslaved Black people in Texas finally learned that they had been freed two years earlier by executive decree.
The history of Juneteenth is significant for the Black community, which makes the day important for America. Juneteenth has served as a beacon of hope and a reminder of resilience since its first celebration in 1866. For decades, as the Black community has struggled for justice and equity, Juneteenth has been a reminder that change is possible.
So, how can we not celebrate and reflect on its meaning for us today?
Summer is traditionally the time when universities reposition, reorient, and reorganize. It is the season of transition and change – when we have just bid farewell to our graduates, are beginning to orient the next class of Mountaineers, and are welcoming new educators to our community while celebrating cherished colleagues who have chosen to move on to their next great adventure. It is also a time to reflect – to examine what we have done well and acknowledge what we must do next. It seems fitting, then, that Juneteenth occurs in the midst of this point of both celebration and reflection.
As the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at West Virginia University, we are taking Juneteenth as an opportunity for reflection. We have been building our team – a team of diversity and community engagement professionals, prevention specialists, investigators, civil rights defenders, student ambassadors, and peer advocates. The Division is dedicated to ensuring that everyone experience the richness of WVU in its fullest. We understand Mountaineers have differing experiences within our campus community and we are committed to addressing and minimizing disparity. We acknowledge as a Mountaineer Family that we are not exempt from the bias, prejudice, and oppression that occurs in the world and that this work is needed on our campuses. Without actively educating about racism and working to combat its effects, our campus community loses out in many ways, including the opportunity to learn fully from the beauty of our diversity.
The time for change is now and in celebrating moments of liberation we must remember that this change is possible with intentional and sustained efforts.
This year’s Juneteenth is a celebration of the world’s recognition that Black Lives Matter.
Meshea L. Poore, Esq.
Vice President, WVU Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion