Take a deep breath, reflect on the journey and resolve to be a better person.
That’s the message from Kimberly York to all those who participate in New Mexico State University’s Juneteenth celebration, set for Saturday, June 19, at Presley Askew Baseball Field, 1815 Wells St., on the Las Cruces campus.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, specifically when enslaved African Americans in Texas learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The event – organized by the Black Student Association in collaboration with NMSU Black Programs and the Associated Students of NMSU – will kick off at 6 p.m. It is open to the public and will feature several guest speakers, live music, poetry performances and a candlelight vigil.
“It’s just been a tumultuous year, not only with COVID, but with racial tensions, and we want people to exhale for a minute,” said York, interim director of NMSU Black Programs. “This is an opportunity for us to sit back and reflect on the true value of life and celebrate the rich history of African Americans in our country.”
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require disrespect or contempt of other cultures,” York added, quoting the celebrated labor activist César Chávez.
This year’s theme – “Educate. Liberate. Commemorate.” – exemplifies the organizers’ desire to pay homage to previous generations of Black leaders and activists who fought to overcome racial injustices while emphasizing the need to carry on the movement to achieve greater equality.
Saturday’s event will feature a keynote address from Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, whom York described as an “authentic champion for diversity.” NMSU’s general counsel, Roy Collins III, also will speak about the holiday from a historical perspective. Collins hails from Galveston, Texas, where Juneteenth originated.
“We want to continue to educate people about the challenges that remain in our community, city, state and country regarding racism,” York said.
The event also will feature live music from the Las Cruces band Fanny Pack Bradas and a rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by Las Cruces native Janice Jones. Representatives from several Black Greek organizations also will be on hand during the event to lend their support.
York said the candlelight vigil will commemorate the historic end of slavery, the many Black lives lost to racial injustice and the millions of people worldwide who have died as a result of COVID-19, a disease that has disproportionally impacted communities of color. Attendees should bring flameless candles, she added.
York said participants should view the celebration as a moment of self-reflection.
“We want everybody to walk away and have some sense of personal conviction about what they can do,” she said. “I start with myself first. What can I do to be a better human and help people understand the lived experiences of people who are not like them? Where do we need to go as a human race? How do we remember those who have fought and positioned us to move progressively forward?”
This year’s event follows a year of tumult and protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police violence. At the height of the turmoil, Black Programs and the Black Student Association organized one of the most visible on-campus Juneteenth celebrations in NMSU history, an event that drew a diverse crowd of several hundred participants.
The 2020 event catalyzed deep conversations about systemic racism and the push to attain greater diversity and inclusion, specifically in the recruitment of students of color. It also spurred a year of online forums dedicated to driving the movement beyond the protests.
“Even though slavery ended in 1865, the struggle ensues in many ways,” York said. “I think the untimely and unfortunate murder of George Floyd had a captive audience because of COVID. But this has been a lifelong lived experience for so many of our Black men, women and children.”
York described the aftermath of the 2020 protests as “bittersweet.” She noted the historic election of Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States last year as a barrier-breaking achievement for women, African Americans and Asian Americans.
“For me, that revitalized my spirit and faith in America. But there’s still much more work to do,” she said. “We have to begin to shed light on systemic racism when it happens – and not just in the Black community. We know our fellow Asians and LGBT friends are under attack, and it is heartbreaking. We see so many immigrants are struggling and suffering. We want people to see Juneteenth as an opportunity to take the time to understand each other’s lived experiences because, at the end of the day, we’re all human.”
In accordance with updated COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Mexico Department of Health, fully vaccinated people are not required to wear face masks during the event.
Author: Carlos Andres López – NMSU