Recognition of Juneteenth

Community Engagement; PhD; Public Health; Social Work; Students

Juneteenth, a commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States (June 19, 1865), provides an important opportunity to recognize the fight for black freedom, which began more than 400 years ago when the first African slaves were brought to America. 

The 400 year plus legacy was elevated last year in 2019, thanks to the leadership of Professor Jack Kirkland, Cynthia Williams, Atia Thurman, Najjuwah Walden, Kyliah Thompson, Diamond Munerlyn, Shirley Emerson, and many others.  A trilogy of events elevated the absolute necessity to end racism and its deleterious impact on Black lives, as well as honored the contributions and resilience of black and brown people across time.  One way to create space to consider the meaning of Juneteenth is to learn more and listen to the words of Wesley Bell, Cornell Brooks and Karine Jean-Pierre from this important series: Blacks in America:  400 Years Plus.

We are living in an era where the burdens of prejudice, racism and inequality persist with new reminders of the serious health and economic gaps, made once again clear with the emergence of COVID-19.  

As individuals and a community, we have the opportunity to celebrate the resilience, strength, power and determination of Black people in America, as well as create paths towards contributing to the current Movement for Black Lives, and effort that will improve all lives, and holds real promise for substantive change. 

I invite you to take some time and reflect on our country’s history and engage in the work needed to undo racism and oppression in all its forms. Below are a few (of many) options noted to contribute to the larger movements for social change. 

We can and must do better to fight the social injustices that are driven by white supremacy, to elect legislators driven to advance racial equity, and to ensure that Black and Brown voices are heard. 

Register to Vote and Participate in the Census

With federal elections approaching in November, it is critically important that we engage in the electoral process and vote.  Additionally, the U.S. Census is currently taking place, and everyone must be counted.  A recent panel explored why it is so critically important to participate using a racial equity lens. Here is a link to the recording:  Political Action and Power in the Face of Adversity.

Deepen Your Understanding of Racism

COVID-19 and Race is an ongoing series serves as a platform for highlighting multiple perspectives and draws on community-based and evidence-based knowledge to address the challenges facing Black, Brown and Native populations. Speakers and participants share their insights into the scope of the issues, root causes, and recommendations for advancing racial and health equity.  As you listen, please be aware that the conversations and the powerful perspectives are challenging to listen to and caused upset as the speakers and participants grappled with the profound pain and anger associated with deeply embedded injustice.  

Reimagine Oppressive Social Systems

The field of social work has a prime opportunity to shape strategies and solutions in this time of momentum.  Black Lives Matter: Social Work and the Future of Policing panel on June 30, 2020, 2 pm to 3:30 pm ET, will explore recent ideas to rethink and reimagine policing to advance equity, reduce bias and brutality and improve social service responses. Registration is open.   

Celebrate Black Freedom, Black Joy, and Black Cultures

WEPOWER, a community empowerment organization in St. Louis, has organized Black Joy Juneteenth.  As part of fighting racism, they are asking that everyone focus their resources toward buying from Black-owned businesses, giving to Black-led organizations building power, and defending Black lives. Make the pledge to Give Black, Buy Black, and Defend Black lives over the next 72 hours.

St. Louis-area Juneteenth 2020 celebrations

There are several opportunities to celebrate in person and online; find more information.


Mary McKay
Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School

Vetta Sanders Thompson
Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity; E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity