Beyond the Classroom: Young black adults in Michigan illuminate Juneteenth’s Significance

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Pictured: Top, bottom left to right: Demetrius Noakes, Laron Long and Alaya Pack

In February, the Lansing School District Board of Education voted 6-0 to institute Juneteenth (June 19 or Black Independence Day) as a district-wide holiday. This decision was made on Feb. 22, a week before the conclusion of black history month. This resolution sparked a conversation about the knowledge and impact of celebrating Juneteenth within the African American community. 

Alaya Pack, a 20-year-old MSU student studying African/African American Studies shared that did not learn about Juneteenth until college, “I, of course, heard about it before then, but it makes me sad that it took so long to get introduced to and learn about this celebration.”

Juneteenth is the day that commemorates the liberation of enslaved people in the United States marking the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas in 1865.

Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, signed bipartisan legislation on July 12, 2023, declaring Juneteenth as a state holiday in Michigan. Since then, an increasing number of state, local governments, and private employers are recognizing Juneteenth. The last federal holiday signed into action before June 19 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“The acknowledgment of Juneteenth is so important; although I feel like the Lansing school district decision was long-awaited, it’s appreciated,” Alaya expressed. 

Laron Long, a native of Ypsilanti, MI, shared, “I think I was first exposed to Juneteenth in 2021. Before then, I didn’t have prior knowledge of this celebration for the black community.” Laron continued, “I’ve seen Juneteenth being taken more seriously in the last three years compared to any other time in my life.”

The Black community is increasingly embracing the Juneteenth holiday, despite differences in when they first learned about it and started celebrating.

“Thankfully, AAAS studies encouraged me to advocate for the black community. The AAAS departments as a whole allow us to go back in history and learn about the things that the education system missed for us growing up,” Alaya said.

Demetrius Noakes, 21, shared that he was introduced to Juneteenth through social media. “I saw the controversies surrounding Juneteenth and its meaning; I feel like it has been recently getting the respect and recognition it deserves.” 

In 2021, a string of social media memes, news stories and other creative content paved the way for the continuous growth and exposure of Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth brings a day of togetherness for the community; it gives the ability for the newer generations to become better educated on the history of our ancestors and provide a positive outlook on the black community,” Ron concluded.

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