WMU News

Sunday's Juneteenth celebration is 'family event'

June 20, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- West Michigan's third Annual Juneteenth Celebration is set for 3 p.m. June 23 in the Dalton Center Recital Hall and at the adjacent Fine Arts Plaza on the main Western Michigan University campus in Kalamazoo.

The 2002 celebration, called "A Family Event," is being co-sponsored by WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs and African Student Association. The organizer and primary sponsor is Ujima Enterprises Inc., a Kalamazoo-based nonprofit educational, cultural and community service organization that operates an after-school and weekend youth development program incorporating an African-centered curriculum.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States and is a major symbol of freedom for many African Americans, just as the Fourth of July is for all Americans.

"It's a unique cultural expression similar to the Chinese New Year and Cinco De Mayo," says Dr. J. Baraka-Love, founder, president and chief executive officer of UEI. "It's a way to observe and share the proud history of African Americans, pass on the legacy of culture to our children, honor our ancestors who never gave up the struggle for freedom, and honor African American educators who include our children in their loving dedication to the education profession."

The keynote address for the West Michigan Juneteenth observance will be given by Dr. Roy Hudson of Kalamazoo, retired corporate vice president of the Upjohn Co., now Pharmacia Corp. Hudson will speak on "Why Juneteenth?"

He and Deborah Patton Smith of Kalamazoo also will receive the 2002 national Liberator Award for Leadership in Education from UEI. Patton Smith is strategic planner for academic achievement for the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

The Juneteenth celebration will feature authentic traditional African dances performed by the Ujima Afrikan Dance Troupe and a cultural demonstration by Detroit's Black Folk Arts. A buffet dinner is included in the price of admission, which costs $10 for adults, $8 for students of any age with student IDs and $5 for children age 5 to 11. Admission is free for children under age 5.

Juneteenth grew out of the spontaneous celebrations that took place on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, after enslaved Africans in the state were finally informed they were free. Africans in other states had been told of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation a full two and one-half years earlier, but those in Texas had been kept in the dark and in bondage.

Now a legal holiday in that state and celebrated in countries around the world, Juneteenth is variously observed by a day, a week and in some cases, a month of activities. These activities typically focus on family and education.

"Education has always been a top priority in the African American community and now it's the liberator," Baraka-Love says. "We're free and equal under the law, but still have a long way to go educationally, economically and socially."

Baraka-Love notes that a commitment to excellence in education was the driving force behind UEI's founding in 1993 and its introduction of the Liberator Award one year ago.

That award is presented to African American educators who go the extra mile in teaching, research or advocacy. The inaugural recipients were Dr. Asa Hilliard, the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University and Kalamazoo Public Schools educators Deborah Jackson, a mathematics teacher at Maple Street Middle School (South), and Dorothy Young, principal of Hillside Middle School.

For more information about Juneteenth or Ujima Enterprises, contact J. Baraka Love at (269) 345-1534 or <barakal@aol.com>.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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