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Juneteenth Celebration Educates Our Youth By Cassiette West-Williams

The sales clerk pulled the Juneteenth display down, so I could purchase the last shirt in the store.  I was frantic because two other women were searching for shirts for their children’s school programs in Chicago. While my heart swelled with pride that this holiday is finally gaining wide appeal in the mainstream, I wondered if commercialism would rule Juneteenth in the future.

Jordan-Amman West-Williams

My grandson opened his mouth and asked to wear an article of clothing that was reflective of his heritage, yet he did not fully understand why stores are selling Juneteenth clothing, earrings, pants suits, dresses, banners, table wear, paper cups, and table cloths. Rightfully so, Jordan-Amman asked me was this the summer Kwanzaa celebration for Black people? When he wore his brightly colored tee-shirt to school, his teacher was pleased and he became popular. It is a good thing that I home-school my grandson about Black History every day.

We went to the Chicago Public Library’s Regional Branch, on 95th Halsted (The Dr. Carter G. Woodson Branch of Black History), where most of the books had been checked out by patrons. There was one source left in the holiday bin of books, which explained that enslaved Africans were finally freed in the spring of 1865 in Texas. No sweetheart, the news did not travel from the newspaper or on Facebook, Snap Chat, or Twitter. And Black people were not allowed to attend school or read.

The information came two years late, by word of mouth. Slavery had ended in 1863, officially, but African Americans really did not know their status. When the Emancipation was signed to end enslavement in the confederate states, Black folks were not a witness to the actual event.  However, Freedom Day, or Liberation Day, came to be on June 19, 1865. Unfortunately, none of this history is contained in the social studies handbook or textbooks. Sometimes, the Black History curriculum might mention Juneteenth, but our CPS children do not have access to these books or teachers until they are in the later years of high school.

A Black History class is an elective in CPS because our history is never a requirement. That is why I hobbled to the front of the store to get that shirt–we must make learning as popular as wearing the latest fashions. We must make learning about Juneteenth as popular as the best accomplishment from that particular era.

While retail stores in mainstream America and privately owned Black business shops are making money off of the holiday, young people are gaining a sense of pride about their heritage. Juneteenth has captured corporate America, as banks and other financial institutions in Chicago, are offering workshops and grant writing opportunities for people of color to get ahead in the real estate market. It is not simply a day for eating, drinking, and enjoying a party. Some business institutions are using Juneteenth to reach out and educate the masses about earning resources and non-traditional careers.

So, here’s to 2022 Juneteenth’s empowerment of our children and our people. May all of us respect what our ancestors have achieved and may our youth go forward with an educated sense of purpose.