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What Juneteenth Means to Me

A Black woman holding a cup of coffee while staring out of the window

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together."-Desmond Tutu

As I reflect on Juneteenth, I think back to the day I first learned that there were enslaved people who were still not free even after the Emancipation Proclamation. I stood in awe as I learned of this untold story of my history – a story that is also America’s history. Why had this part of Black history not been taught to me in school? I felt robbed of my past and took it upon myself to learn more about my legacy and the contributions Black Americans have made in this country.

Today, I stand proud to know my true heritage as a Black American woman. I reflect on Juneteenth and how it means so much to me and my community. One of the many reasons I can thrive is due, in large part, to the sacrifices my ancestors made that are interwoven into the very fabric of our great Nation. Their strength and perseverance paved the way for my freedom, for Black freedom.

Black history has such a rich tapestry that continues to reverberate. I choose to learn what was not taught to me and so many others. I fervently believe that as we continue to educate ourselves, we can hold meaningful conversations that enlighten us about past injustices. We must stand in our truth, whether it is good, bad, ugly, or indifferent so that we can diligently learn from our past to create a brighter, better future for everyone.

As we celebrate this federal holiday, which marks the freedom of Black people, I must acknowledge that the work to achieve equality is far from over. We have endured a great deal and even to this day, there are racial inequities that disproportionately impact Black people. While the progress our country has made gives me hope, we are not finished. I yearn for the day when every person – no matter their color, nationality, ability, racial identity, sexual identity, or religion can truly echo the sentiment “all men are created equal.” I hope that one day that statement rings true to the core for every American.

Juneteenth has become a day filled with such great meaning. It is a revitalization of joy and optimism. My heart overflows as I dutifully reconcile my relationship with my country and my identity. I stand grateful for the history of my past, reconciling what happened, and looking to the future with anticipation.

Juneteenth is a day for reflection and rejoicing!

Juneteenth is a day of acknowledgment of our past and for us to take accountability for our future.

Juneteenth is a day that is no longer hidden from our collective consciousness. I pledge to continue to promote belonging, inclusion, equity, diversity, and accessibility for historically underserved communities. Here at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we will continue to create communities that bridge gaps and create spaces where each of us – belongs.

As we commemorate this “Celebration of Jubilee” known as Juneteenth, let us continue to acknowledge the real meaning of freedom, past and present. Get involved in the making of a brighter future by visiting the NIH Black Employment Portfolio and contacting the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s Principal Strategists, Kiana Atkins and Monique Robinson.

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