Miguel Martinez-Saenz, Ph.D., President, St. Francis College
Juneteenth also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, African American Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day is June 19th a solemn yet joyful day. It commemorates the end of the institution of slavery in the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery but it wasn’t until years later (1865) when Union soldiers reached Texas and announced that the war was over that slavery was fully abolished.
Juneteenth is a day of triumph, freedom and a reckoning with a past that is an integral part of our history. While there is little doubt that we have much to celebrate and while we recognize that Juneteenth is a day of celebration, we also recognize that it is an important day for us to reflect on what it means to be fully committed to promoting democracy across our country.
As Franciscans, we commit to promoting the dignity of all persons. Importantly, a democracy should aspire to do the same. The United States remains one of civilizations greatest experiments. As the stewards of this experiment and its aspirations and ideals, we should remember to do our part to ensure that our democracy is preserved and enhanced. As a country we can demonstrate to the world that, like a mosaic and a tapestry, we are woven together from different cloths and different strands yet bound together by a common ideal, namely, that all human beings are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.
On this day, I ask each of us to take stock on the great contributions of former slaves and abolitionists who challenged us to become our best selves. We consider the likes of Frederick Douglas, Fannnie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman and others who, despite the challenges and threats, remained fully committed to making the world and the US a better place.
The closing of Maya Angelou’s classic says it well:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.