Three 2024 high school graduates were honored this week as winners of the Juneteenth Scholarship essay contest. Their essays are below.

Juneteenth is chance to acknowledge both legacy and unfinished work

It is June 19, 1865, and over 250,000 enslaved Africans are gathered in Galveston, Texas, watching the United States Union Troops approach the bay to announce that after 400 years, they are free. Just a few months prior, Abraham Lincoln had announced the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing those enslaved in Confederate territory, but not all of them were made free.

This day is known as “Freedom Eve” or “Emancipation Day” and took place on January 1, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation might not have cemented the actual liberation of African American people in the U.S., but it was a critical turning point that led up to the country’s second Independence Day, known as Juneteenth. Understanding what Juneteenth is and recognizing its importance and the intentions of other celebrations like it is essential. 

Juneteenth essay winner Hailey Perkins, an Okemos graduate

Juneteenth, deriving from the words “June” and “Nineteenth”, is the day that marks the annual celebration of a huge step towards racial reckoning in the United States. Texas was the first state to make it a holiday in 1980, motivating other states to do the same in the years following. Finally, in 2021, Juneteenth became a national holiday. However, we must see this celebration as an obstacle that was overcome, rather than a destination. There is still much work to be done. Victories like this one encourage us to continue the fight.

Professor Eric Mauldin at the University of South Florida, an expert on civil war and reconstruction, talks about how “Juneteenth is neither the beginning nor the end of something.” The same article states that “the end of the Civil War and the ending of slavery didn’t happen overnight and was a lot more like a jagged edge than a clean cut.” It is imperative to realize that the road ahead could be just as long as the road behind us. 

In today’s age, the celebration of Juneteenth holds a higher significance than ever before, as we take time to honor the struggles endured but also acknowledge that many of those struggles are ongoing, as it pertains to racial inequality and systemic issues that create numerous disparities for African Americans. The historical injustices we suffered had only just begun to be accounted for by the rest of the country’s population. Juneteenth holds the purpose of reminding us of progress made thus far and is a chance for our community to move forward as a whole and help each other rebuild. This holiday gives millions of African Americans an opportunity to rejoice and give thanks to God for releasing them from years of suffering and captivity. The day creates a country-wide social awareness of the journey to equality and the abolishment of slavery’s awful oppression. Additionally, observing this day as a united front inspires self-development and is a chance to reconnect to one’s roots that were all but erased during slavery and go on to encourage African Americans to keep striving for a brighter future. 

In France, Bastille Day acknowledges the fight and patience undergone to eventually reach freedom. July 14, 1880, is the day the citizens of France finally overcame King Louis XVI and his monarchy’s rule over them. Each year, they cherish this as a day of reclamation for their lives.

Every July 18th since 2010, the historical moment when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, is recognized. This day is known as Mandela Day. Mandela transformed their democracy into a more diverse selection of administration, breaking down the white power held over the country for centuries. After being elected, he shared to his citizens this powerful message; “I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” Just as those countries continue to commemorate those momentous turning points in history, we must continue to honor Juneteenth’s significance. 

Like Juneteenth, these important moments in history represent coming out on the other side of trials and tribulations, as well as salvaging their heritage. Universally, it is important to continue the recognition and cultivation of knowledge about Juneteenth and other celebrations akin to it, so we can mend communities back together who were violently ripped apart by domination subjugation. Breakthroughs didn’t happen without countless setbacks, but celebrations like these serve as a notion to never give up hope regardless. Juneteenth has the purpose and effect of uplifting hearts and minds to keep fighting, until justice and humanity are restored.  

Hailey Perkins is co-winner of the Taylor Academic Talent Scholarship. She is a graduate of Okemos High School and will attend Howard University.

Celebrations of freedom offer history lessons 

I imagine the words, “Ain’t nobody told me nothing!” came out of many mouths, minds and hearts when freed slaves found out they stayed in bondage 2 ½ years after other slaves had been set free.  Slavery in Texas continued 900 hundred days after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.    

In I863, the Civil War was in its third year. Many lives had been lost, and the end was nowhere in sight.  On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln enforced the signed Emancipation Proclamation.  The Emancipation Proclamation stated, “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.“

This proclamation freed slaves that were in states that had left the union. This proclamation could only be enforced if the North won the war.  After continued fighting and the loss of many more lives, the Union won the war April 9, 1865. Then on June 19, 1865, in the state of Texas, more than 250,000 slaves were finally set free.  Their freedom came 2 ½ years after everyone else’s.  While gaining freedom was a dream come true, delayed freedom is symbolic of the continued struggle for Black Americans.   

Zachary Barker, Okemos High School

There are many opinions regarding the celebration of Juneteenth. Many people celebrate it as the end of slavery, others don’t celebrate it at all, while others fall somewhere in between. Although Juneteenth has been celebrated for many years, it was only in 2021 that it became a national holiday.

The importance of celebrating Juneteenth is because America needs to know. Celebrating Juneteenth provides the opportunity to educate and inform our communities. Celebrating this holiday is more than remembering the past but it gives an opportunity to discuss race relations today. It allows people to have difficult conversations about hard subjects.  Ultimately, celebrating Juneteenth allows us to examine the mistakes of the past and do better in the future.

Celebrating this holiday makes us ask tough questions about the beginning of our country, our values, and our rights. Celebrating Juneteenth since the murder of George Floyd has made many people question, “Are Black people really free?” 

Juneteenth celebrations are now opportunities to discuss systemic racism, policy change, politics and ways to make sure that our lives do matter. Most importantly, it forces us to take an honest look at race relations in America, ask how are we really doing?    

There are many celebrations of freedom and independence across the world. India celebrates its freedom from British rule. Ghana celebrates its freedom from the United Kingdom. But the country whose freedom celebration identifies with me the most is the Philippines.  My paternal grandfather’s wife is from the Philippines. She shared much about her birthplace and its culture with our family. The country celebrates its freedom from Spanish rule with a celebration called Araw ng Kalayaan. 

The celebration is filled with parades, music, food and family bonding. But the Philippines has another celebration for freedom. After the Spanish rule ended, the Philippines came under the rule of America. But it was a nation that wanted to be free.  The road to independence for the Philippines is similar to the Juneteenth celebration, and the delay in freedom. The Philippines nation was supposed to become independent in 1944.  But World War II occurred and like Juneteenth that freedom was delayed for 2 full years.

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines became fully free from United States. Today, the citizens of the Philippines celebrate not one but 2 days of independence and freedom. A sign of their perseverance. These celebrations remind us to never give up.    

It is vital to continue the celebration of Juneteenth and other cultural celebrations of freedom around the world because “knowledge is power.” These celebrations symbolize more than just freedom. They are evidence that major changes in society can happen despite the odds. They provide motivation for people to stand up for basic human rights and against injustice. 

Most importantly these celebrations give us hope. They are evidence that we can be part of the change that we want to see in the world. When I think back to the first Juneteenth, that moment when the slaves realized they were enslaved 900 days longer than everyone else. That moment when they had to think, “Ain’t nobody told me nothing!” 

Well today, I told you something.  Never forget the lesson of Juneteenth or the other cultural celebrations of freedom.

Zachary Barker is co-winner of the Taylor Academic Talent Scholarship. He is a graduate of Okemos High School and will attend Michigan State University.   

The importance of why we celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is an annual holiday recognized on June 19th in honor of the enslavement of oppressed African Americans in the United States. The festival started in Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers conveyed the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to the state’s last surviving enslaved people, thereby ending slavery in the United States.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which announced that all enslaved individuals in Confederate-held territory would be set free. However, it wasn’t until the Civil War ended and Union forces landed in Texas that the word of freedom reached the remaining enslaved people. Understanding the history of Juneteenth is important, including its connection to other countries, the significance of learning about it as a child, and how it is celebrated today. 

Glorie Clay is a Juneteenth essay contest winner. She is a graduate of Lansing Christian High School.

While Juneteenth is uniquely American, it bears shared characteristics with other cultural celebrations of liberty and independence across the world. Many countries have their own celebrations, which are cultural and historical events. For example, India celebrates its independence from British dominion on August 15th of each year, remembering the day in 1947 when the country gained freedom after years of struggle and sacrifice. Similarly, Mexico commemorates its independence from Spanish colonial rule on September 16th, often known as “El Grito de Dolores.” These cultural celebrations of sovereignty and liberty contain common themes such as determination and the pursuit of justice. They remind us of the challenges that persecuted populations have experienced throughout history, as well as the significance of preserving and respecting their tales. By connecting Juneteenth to other cultural celebrations, we may get a more comprehensive understanding of their significance. 

Juneteenth was recently given new attention and significance as a result of the ongoing battle for racial equality and social justice in the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement and rallies against police brutality have drawn attention to the systems of prejudice and inequality that persist in American society. As a result, recognizing and remembering Juneteenth has never been more crucial. 

At the high school level, students ought to learn about and participate in cultural celebrations of freedom and independence, such as Juneteenth. By understanding the history and significance of these festivals, students may develop a better understanding of different individuals’ perspectives as well as the continued effect of historical events on our modern society. Studying Juneteenth and other cultural festivals of independence allows students to critically assess problems of race, power, and privilege. By discussing the historical foundations of systematic racism and oppression, students may obtain a better understanding of social justice concerns and the need of speaking up against injustices in their own communities. Incorporating conversations and activities about cultural celebrations of freedom and independence into the curriculum for high school can help students extend their viewpoints and get a better grasp of the complexity of history and culture. These abilities are critical for creating a more inclusive and equitable society in which all people are respected, appreciated, and celebrated. 

To summarize, Juneteenth’s historical significance as a celebration of liberation and freedom for African Americans is firmly anchored in the history of slavery and the ongoing battle for equality and justice. By commemorating and celebrating Juneteenth, we recognize the significance of remembering history, comprehending the present, and working for a more fair and equitable future for everyone. Studying and recognizing these events in high school, students may get significant insights into the experiences of other groups, as well as the ongoing efforts for freedom and equality.

In today’s world, when the fight for racial equality is ongoing, commemorating Juneteenth is more vital than ever, as it serves as an important awareness of the African American community’s continued struggle for justice and perseverance. 

Glorie Clay is the winner of the University of Olivet Academic Talent Scholarship. She is a graduate of Lansing Christian High School and will attend Olivet.