Juneteenth is a historical federal holiday that honors the first June 19th in 1865 when Texas was forced by Union troops to free all enslaved people. California State University of Bakersfield (CSUB) hosted a Juneteenth panel discussion to honor the significant day.
Panelists included Elder Ralph Anthony, Assistant Pastor at St. Peter Restoration Community Christian Ministries, L. Dee Slade, Executive Director of the African American Network of Kern County (AANKC), and Michael Bowers, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, and Director of Public Relations and Business Development for Centric Healthcare in Bakersfield.
Slade is a community historian among a variety of other roles, and was one of the panelists at last week’s
discussions. Slade began her talk with spoken word that imagined the experiences of enslaved African Americans.
“The rules are still the same- I am not free,” read Slade from the excerpt.
For Slade, it is vital not to forget the nuances and discourses of enslaved Black Americans and to teach the historical significance of those social contracts to new generations.
Slade focused on the importance of recalling history and keeping Black stories alive.
“What Juneteenth means to me is that it’s a crack in the door…It’s a time where we can show out and show up. It’s a time when we can demand a seat at the table, and to be recognized for who we are,” Slade stated.
The door being described symbolizes freedom, reparations, equity, liberation and so much more that Black Americans are owed in the United States. According to The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), they strongly support reparations and refer to documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence for the many reasons why the United States government needs to make major policy and legislative changes.
“There was a time here in the 50 and the 60s that door was not open. That this community always had an open heart- so let me tell you that. That’s what Juneteenth did. It cracked the door,” explained Slade.
Ralph Anthony followed Slade’s talk with a greeting that made the crowd laugh, then a speech that reflects his years of knowledge from serving the community. Anthony concluded his message with a call to action to support the mental health of fellow community members.
It was alarming to Anthony that the suicide rates among Black individuals have risen, and he shared anecdotal stories about counseling struggling people who sought out the help of his church. Anthony advised the crowd to invest in alkaline dirt as a home remedy for several ailments and alluded to its healing effect plus the benefits it has to your quality of life. He also encouraged them to stand up for what they believe in.
The last to speak was Michael Bowers. Bowers balanced a friendly, familiar atmosphere while also inspiring the audience.
“It’s not the view but the vision,” Bowers said.
Bowers educated the audience about barriers African and Black Americans faced in the 1960s that kept them from voting and further explained that jobs and justice became many formerly enslaved families’ foci.
“Here we are in 2023 and the call is still for jobs and justice,” Bowers continued. “I often tell African Americans it’s important to be engaged in the political process, and the reason why it’s important to be engaged in the political process is because that’s how we move from ‘Black History to Black Futures.’”
Bowers described Black Futures as a symbol of progress which could include more mentorship for Black youth, younger generations getting involved in local electoral campaigns, and encouraging elders to continue to follow their passions like suggesting a loved one over 60 years of age utilize CSUB’s free or reduced tuition policy.
All three panelists made note that Juneteenth is also a celebration.
“What Juneteenth for me signifies, or highlights, is the opportunity to say thank you, to pay tribute to those unsung heroes that were behind the scenes… Juneteenth is a tip of the hat to say thank you to them,” said Bowers.