Week of Juneteenth events aims to celebrate emancipation, spark conversation

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Two Registered Student Organizations at Western Michigan University are teaming up for a weeklong celebration of Black culture and heritage. The Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and Counseling Psychology RSO (CPRSO) organized Juneteenth at WMU—a series of both in-person and virtual events beginning today, June 14.

Juneteenth commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States. Though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, establishing the freedom of all enslaved people, it wasn't until June 19, 1865—more than two years later—that Union troops delivered the orders in Texas.

Juneteenth celebrations traditionally involve food, music, art and activism focused on Black heritage and pride. Western's observance was planned in collaboration with Kalamazoo College and other area community organizations.

The Juneteenth flag, which is blue and red with a white star.

Juneteenth Events

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"It's such a great way to nationally celebrate Black history and culture," says Tatyana Smith, BGSA vice president and CPRSO member. She adds the events are also about honoring the spirit of Juneteenth that symbolizes resisting oppression and marginalization.

"Coming off the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement and all the protests, all that's been going on around police brutality, I just feel like it's a great way for people to come together and celebrate radical joy and peace and also be healed," she says. "Activist work is great, too, but sometimes it gets exhausting and we need time to recharge. So, this is a national recharging celebration for everyone involved."

Counseling psychology doctoral student Devin Willis, president of BGSA and co-president of CPRSO, helped to pull the two organizations together to get the ball rolling on Juneteenth at WMU. Events include keynote speeches by Dr. Benjamin Wilson, emeritus professor and former director of Africana Studies at Western, and Dr. Michelle Johnson, who worked as a Freedom Trail coordinator for the state of Michigan and currently consults on a statewide Black history project. Poet, "artivist" and author Leslé Honoré will headline a spoken word event and Rootead Enrichment Center will host interactive drum and dance classes for mental wellness at the Douglass Community Association.

"The theme is definitely education as well as celebration," says Zari Carpenter, a counseling psychology doctoral student and CPRSO co-president. "We really want to make the connection with Juneteenth to the importance of mental health as well, because that is our professional home as counseling psychologists."

A 5K solidarity march through Celery Flats in Portage, Michigan, will also focus on physical and emotional well-being.

"This is recognizing that African American history is American history. It's something that is important to know—for everyone," Carpenter says. "You have to educate and take steps forward, literally maybe steps in solidarity in a 5K march. And realizing that this is important from a mental health perspective. Avoiding history isn't healthy. The more we learn about history, the more we can learn and grow and heal."

"As people become more aware of themselves as racial beings and we figure out what our role looks like in this fight toward racial and social justice and to be antiracist, one way to do that is to come out and celebrate—even if you don't really know what's going on. That can be your role. It can be as simple as that to start that systematic feeling of unity and solidarity," Smith said.

More information about the Juneteenth celebration, including links to virtual events and other community programming, is available online.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.