Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, is an annual holiday celebrated on June 19 in the United States that commemorates the freedom of enslaved people. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed more than three million slaves living in Confederate states at the time. However, it took more than two years for news of the proclamation to reach the state of Texas, so it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that all enslaved people had learned of their freedom.
The following year, the first official celebration of Juneteenth took place in Texas to recognize and rejoice in this momentous occasion. Since then, celebrations have spread across the country to many other states. Juneteenth festivals traditionally include religious services and rituals, prayers, speeches, food, music, and dancing. It is a joyous time when loved ones gather to reflect upon, honor, and celebrate the freedom of all people in the United States, a defining mark of our country.
This Juneteenth, we encourage you to have critical conversations with children about the unique and complex history of the United States, noting the progress that has been made thus far and identifying ways we can continue to improve as a nation. Read on to discover four ways to commemorate Juneteenth with the young people in your life.
1. Educate with literature.
One way to engage children around Juneteenth is through finding literature that tells the story and impact of this holiday through Black voices. Especially if you are not Black, uplifting Black perspectives during this time is critical for a true, in-depth understanding that does not center the history of this day around the viewpoint of White Americans.
Some books to consider reading together are Juneteenth by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Drew Nelson, Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper, and All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson. Gaining knowledge through these stories gives children the tools to advocate for narratives and experiences that have historically been silenced.
2. Connect to the Sustainable Development Goals.
When children are able to connect concepts to larger themes, the takeaways from a particular lesson are long-lasting and become more relevant in everyday life. One way to achieve this is by placing the history and lessons from Juneteenth in a global context through the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities and SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions are both intrinsically linked to Juneteenth and provide a framework for discussing how these goals show up in the United States today as well as across the globe. Children can spend time researching each of these goals to better understand how striving for reduced inequalities, peace, and justice in the United States, particularly in regard to Black history, compares to other countries over the course of global history.
3. Honor Black abolition activists.
Juneteenth can sometimes be watered down to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union soldier arriving in Texas to spread the news in 1865. However, a lot of work had to be done and sacrifices made in order to progress to the point where widespread change could be signed into law. It is important to recognize and honor the efforts of Black abolitionists to make this dream a reality.
Have your children take a deep dive into learning more about some of the lesser-known, but still equally impactful activists who created meaningful change during this time. This blog post highlights twenty-four abolitionists who worked tirelessly to resist slavery for all Black people. Ask your child to choose an abolitionist they would like to focus on and have them create a biography project that outlines the unique history of that individual.
4. Support the local community.
With a stronger foundation in the history of Juneteenth and what it means for the country, encourage children to take the lessons learned and engage in their local communities. Whether it’s through supporting a Black-owned business in your neighborhood or donating time or money to a meaningful Black-led cause, children can celebrate Juneteenth through supporting Black people in their lives.
Don’t let the conversations around Black history and race in America stop after Juneteenth is over. Empower your children to use their knowledge and understanding to continue connecting with the community around these topics throughout the year and become advocates in a diverse democracy.
At Participate Learning, we believe that developing children into global leaders helps to build relevance, promote student agency, and make connections beyond the classroom. With empathy and understanding at the forefront, we can unite our world through global learning and join together for a more peaceful and just tomorrow. For more information on global leaders, visit our webpage..