Two of Oakland County’s top leaders and community members highlighted the progress made by Black Americans and the ongoing challenge of achieving freedom and liberation in the 156 years since enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned the Civil War had ended during a virtual gathering held earlier this month.
The occasion; a panel discussion titled, “Juneteenth: Then and Now,” highlighted the continued presence of racism in America and challenged the notion that Black Americans had already accomplished justice at a time when police brutality, health disparities and other systemic challenges persist in the United States.
The panel, which streamed live Thursday, June 17 on Facebook, called attention to the history of Black citizens in the U.S. and challenged the community to consider how past events continue to influence the present-day realities for Black Americans.
Leaders from education, public health, and racial justice organizations joined Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter and the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, Robin Carter-Cooper, for a passionate 90-minute discussion inspired by Juneteenth.
The annual celebration, which U.S. President Joe Biden declared a federal holiday just hours before the panel started, first occurred on June 19, 1865 when a group of Union soldiers landed in Galveston and informed the community The Civil War—and slavery— had ended. The historical moment occurred two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s signed the Emancipation Proclamation, highlighting the southern state’s failure to acknowledge the landmark executive order.
Rochelle Riley, Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Detroit—and one of five panelists—highlighted the history of the holiday before Carter-Cooper posed three questions to panelists. Riley noted she did not learn about Juneteenth until she started a job at the Dallas Morning News newspaper in the late 1980s.
Coulter shared his experience, saying that he did not learn about Juneteenth in school.
“It wasn’t in the history books that I read,” Coulter said. “But increasingly, we have come to understand that this recognition of Juneteenth is an important part of the recognition of all of us, and an important part of our American history.”
He added that the virtual conversation could help the community understand how the history behind Juneteenth impacts residents in Oakland County and what our shared humanity offers us going forward.
Riley was joined by Dr. Jay Marks, Diversity and Equity Consultant for Oakland Schools; Glenn McIntosh, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at Oakland University; George Pitchford, an Executive Committee Member for the Northern Oakland County Branch of the NAACP in Pontiac, and Lisa Braddix, Director of Population Health and Health Equity at the Greater Detroit Area Health Council (GDAC), an entity recently acquired by the Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI).
Carter-Cooper guided the panel through three questions:
- Thinking about the terms “freedom” and “liberation,” how have they evolved over time and what are some of the significant differences we should understand?
- Mental health and trauma continue to be an area of focus for many orgs and communities. What role does trauma have in this conversation, and why is it important for us to understand the current and residual impacts of trauma?
- How can we move from moment to movement understanding that knowledge, awareness, and the celebration of Juneteenth must be meet with intentional systemic action. Where can we begin and how do we sustain these efforts?
Then shared questions submitted by audience members for the panelists to comment on:
- How does the discussion around critical race theory, fit into this discussion today and what should be considered as we think of systemic action within our schools in the context of critical race theory?
- How do we bridge the knowledge and learning around topics like this while balancing the discomfort of white employees?
To watch the replay and to hear the panelists’ responses in full, visit the Oakland County Executive Office Facebook page at Facebook.com/OakGov.EO.
To learn more about Oakland County’s efforts to make our region more inclusive, visit the official website for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: www.oakgov.com/equity