"Do I believe people are better together? Yes." - Sharron Reed-Davis
On June 19, 2021, Michigan State University held it's inaugural Juneteenth Celebration on campus. 16 faculty members, involved students and alumni, educators, artists and musicians provided information and entertainment to historically and locally represent the holiday.
(the event's poster)
Dr. Nakia D. Parker, a Dean's Research Associate in the College of Social Science and professor in the Department of History, gave a brief history of Juneteenth that included preliminary information provided in this link here. "This collection captures the stories of former slaves in their own words and voices. Only 26 audio-recorded interviews of ex-slaves have been found." Incredibly fascinating to me.
Head Football Coach Mel Tucker stopped by and spoke about what Juneteenth means to him. He is one of 13 Black head coaches in FBS college football. 13 Black coaches of 130 teams. He talked about this not so much being a celebration for him but a time of reflection, "where we were then and where we are now." His sons are 19 and 17-years old, respectively, so he also talked about how important is it for him to not just be a mentor for his community but also at home. He stayed a while longer to speak with attendees and faculty members and such as well.
(Coach Mel Tucker speaking)
Two of the speakers who received some of the loudest applause were Dr. Lee N. June and Dr. Rema Vassar. Dr. June, a lifelong activist and a current professor in the Honors College, the Department of Psychology and the African American and African Studies Program, spoke about what he's seen and hopes he will continue to see as societal injustices make their way into common conversation. "We should not be celebrating something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place," he said while calling Juneteenth more of a commemoration than a celebration. His passionate body language and words reverberated into the audience and beyond. As a storm blew through the event, he even said that "rain came but did not impede on John Lewis and Dr. King’s March to Selma." Lastly, a book that Dr. June suggested to read is titled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy.
(Dr. June speaking)
Dr. Vassar, the Morris Endowed Chair leading The Leadership Talent Development Project in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and the newest member of Michigan State's Board of Trustees, spoke so personably and thrived with it throughout. "When I think of Black, I think of brilliance, boldness and beauty," she said. She also made a distinction between education and learning and emphasized the importance of reading. "Education is about your credentials; Learning is about being in these spaces, and when we show up, we change these spaces." "You need to learn from your experiences in order to combat them."
The current students that spoke, including Reed-Davis and Dantevius Branigan, are all incredibly involved in their inclusive and outreach ventures on campus and were proud yet continually-learning speakers. "The past wasn't that long ago," Branigan said. During Dr, Vassar's speech, I learned that the first Black female graduate of MSU was in 1907 while the first Black male graduated from MSU in 1904.
A passionate alumna, Felicia Wasson, ended her speech by saying that "the struggle continues" for a subtle yet powerful statement. The fact that the number of Black tenured system faculty members at MSU has dropped from 105 in 2006 to 86 in 2016 among countless other institutional and societal data would suggest that Wasson is more than correct.
I have dedicated the last year and will continue dedicating myself to listening and learning about historical and systemic injustices that plaque our communities and what I could do to help. I thoroughly enjoyed attending this event today and thank all that worked to put it on.