Whether it is Martin Luther King Day of Service, Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veteran’s Day, behind most national recognition days lies a history of struggle, evidence of perseverance and courage, and most importantly, a story of resilience. The historic Juneteenth holiday, a commemoration of the end of slavery, is a day when Black communities honor our past, present, and future. After more than a century and a half later, we continue to celebrate our collective history and power. Juneteenth — now officially recognized as a federal holiday in 2021 — offers us a day to honor [and value] the people whose backs this country was built upon and to embrace the community, resilience, and joy that comes with being Black. Juneteenth is not just a celebration of emancipation from slavery, it is a celebration and testament to the enduring spirit of Black people (Legal Defense Fund).
James Baldwin reminds us that “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history” (Goodreads). Juneteenth is a time that Black people remember our ancestors. It is a time to tell our backstory – our experiences of triumph, tragedy, inclusion and oppression, resilience, and defeatism. Enjoy the oral history shared by Naomi Carrier.
For others, it can be a time to truly listen to these stories because, “America is now in that balancing act trying to figure out how we have physically moved beyond slavery, but mentally and structurally we are still there because our stories separate us based on race. The first step to racial healing is to connect with your own stories of race, what you have been taught and what you believe is true” (Stone). If more storytelling is infiltrated in our society, we will realize that we can intentionally build a broad narrative that describes a shared future that includes validation of equitable relationships, structures, and distribution of resources. We can offer support to one another in surviving, thriving, and when necessary, recognizing the power of resilience that we all possess. Without an understanding of our own stories, and those of others, we will pass the harm embedded in our DNA along to future generations and there will be no radical change (Hooker).
An important part of Montessori pedagogy is to share our human stories, our history, from the beginning of our existence up to our current time and place, with the children. Yet, as you know, states are passing laws to ban honest discussions about racism, sexism, and oppression, and to silence those who speak the truth about our nation’s past. Every student has the right to an equitable and inclusive education that tells the truth about our nation’s past. As we were reminded during the 2022 Montessori Experience: Refresher Courses & More, which held the theme, “Beyond Resilience: Creatively Redesigning our Future.” I think that nobody expresses this reality more than the poetess Nikki Giovanni when she wrote, “Style has a profound meaning to Black Americans. If we can’t drive, we will invent walks and the world will envy the dexterity of our feet. If we can’t have ham, we will boil chitterlings; if we are given rotten peaches, we will make cobblers; if given scraps, we will make quilts; take away our drums, and we will clap our hands. We prove the human spirit will prevail. We will take what we have to make what we need. We need confidence in our knowledge of who we are”(Worthy). We cannot progress further and build a better society for our children if we can’t talk about where we all are coming from.
Juneteenth can be for all, a personal and collective day of reckoning with the shameful legacy of slavery, caste, and systemic racism. Juneteenth can be a personal and collective reminder of the power of truth-telling. By the time school reopens it the fall, Juneteenth will be long past, however, you can recall its significance and “pledge to teach the truth”(Zinn).
But now, for today, for Black Americans, Juneteenth is a day for family connections, celebration of all that is the culture of Black Americans – food, dance, religion, and colloquial languages. June is also Black Music Appreciation Month, so it is definitely a great time to celebrate how Black music enriches our lives and how we push the boundaries of creativity. Finally, remember that music is a universal and powerful way to educate. Enjoy the Juneteenth story via song by Fyütch and Alphabet Rockers.
Biden, Jr. J. (2022, June 17) A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2022. Retrieved from (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/06/17/a-proclamation-on-juneteenth-day-of-observance-2022/ on June 19, 2022
Biden Jr., J. (2022, May 31) A Proclamation on Black Music Appreciation Month, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/05/31/a-proclamation-on-black-music-appreciation-month-2022/ on June 19, 2022
Goodreads. Baldwin Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/9721925-history-is-not-the-past-it-is-the-present-we on June 19, 2022.
Hooker, DA. The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing. (2016) Good Books Publishing. New York, NY.
Legal Defense Fund. Celebrating Juneteenth. Retrieved from https://www.naacpldf.org/juneteenth/ on June 19, 2022.
Stone, D. The Healing Art of Storytelling: A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery. (2004) iUniverse Publishing. Lincoln, NE
Worthy, M. (2014, June 29). “Style Has a Profound Meaning”. Song and Crest Standard. Retrieved from https://songandcrest.com/2014/06/29/style-has-a-profound-meaning/ on June 19, 2022.
Zinn Education Project. (2022, January). Retrieved from https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/pledge-to-teach-truth on June 19, 2022.