Juneteenth and Mental Health Awareness

“The most significant drama in the last thousand years of human history is the transportation of ten million human beings out of the dark beauty of their mother continent in the new-found Eldorado of the West. They descended into Hell; and in the third century they arose from the dead, in the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.”– W.E.B. Du Bois

As I sit here trying to write this blog on Juneteenth, I find myself at a loss. I am a white woman who grew up in the South. How could I ever be able to truly know the significance of this day? How could I possibly hope to capture the experience of being a Black person in our society today? The only answer is that I cannot. There is no way that I could. Thus, I wanted to approach this topic from a different stance. Beyond sharing some of the history of the day, I wanted to share the words of others, as these words provide a first-person experiential account regarding slavery, the fight for equality, and the meaning of the day. I then also wanted to share some reflection on advocacy, for it is in this piece only that I, as a white person, and we, as a white community, can begin to educate, listen, and support.


Juneteenth, also known as, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day is a national commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery in the Confederate States on January 1st, 1863, enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied upon the advance of Union troops. Therefore, in areas such as Texas, the most remote state of the former Confederacy, enforcement was slow and inconsistent.In fact, it was not until June 19, 1865 that Union Army general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver General Order No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”7,10

“Juneteenth is a time to celebrate freedom. It also allows us to unify and celebrate Black culture. Juneteenth is much more than just one calendar day and should be celebrated and appreciated daily.” – Jacques Short II, MA, TMLP

“Juneteenth is a reminder. It is a day to reflect on the history of this nation while celebrating Black culture. It is about Black independence. It highlights that all Americans were not free, acknowledged, or equal, pointing to the growth that still needs to occur in America.” – Shirlee Moore, MA, DTLLP

“Well, I don’t recall being aware of Juneteenth until well into my adulthood. So in part, it reminds me of how little emphasis is put on black history in traditional schooling. It also makes me sad because it marks a day on which many enslaved people were informed they should’ve been free over two years prior. I try to reframe these thoughts. It reminds me to have pride in the resilience of black people. Juneteenth wasn’t the end of their suffering, but I find comfort in imagining how good it must have felt to be freed.” – Nadia Smith, Administrative Assistant

Reflection and Advocacy

Despite the profound opening of the June 19th, 1865 proclamation, its conclusion was not: “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”7,10 Rather, the concluding remarks initiated a new systemic structure of racial inequality. After the final proclamation in 1865, it would be another 156 years (i.e., not until 2021) before Juneteenth would be recognized as a Federal holiday in the United States.

The sting of the reality above is resounded in the following:

“I do not disagree with the observance of Juneteenth. It is a reminder of the depth of deceit the majority will go to maintain their status and oppress others. Such tactics remain today with the suppression of Critical Race Theory, among other things. My frustration lies in the fact that we have observances such as Juneteenth and Black History Month, but only those who respect and honor history observe them. Only those who would benefit from change recognize them thus they become tools to falsely ‘prove’ that minorities are just fine; after all, they have a whole month.” – D’Andre Smith, MA, MLP

The historical Black experience in the United States has been and continues to be characterized by trauma and violence. Segregated military service and education5, inequitable housing and employment opportunities17, unfair legal representation and incarceration3: these have been a standard within the Black communities in the United States. Additionally, race-based exclusion from medical, educational, social, and financial resources translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by the Black community today.1

These disparities are inextricably linked to mental health. People who are impoverished, homeless, incarcerated, or struggle with substance use problems are at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems.1 Additionally, biased practices and culturally incompetent clinicians often lead Black individuals to receive poorer treatment compared to those who are white.1 Stigma and judgment surrounding mental health within the Black community further compound these issues.1

Yet, in light of our current social climate, the question to grapple with is why. That is, why is celebrating Juneteenth important? The simple answer is that it is important because of our current social climate. Celebrating Juneteenth is important to confront the hypocrisies of our country’s founders:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”16

Celebrating Juneteenth is also important to contend with the backhand given to the freed slaves with the final proclamation delivered in Texas on June 19, 1865:

“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”7,10

Additionally, Juneteenth is a time to assess the current condition and reality of equality within the United States. It is a time to deliberately acknowledge progress and, even more significantly, a time to recognize failings and plan for change.

At Meredith Psychological & Testing Services (MPTS), we are committed to examining the roles that both we and the field of psychology as a whole have played in perpetuating structural racism. We hope that, through this process, we can continue to learn and grow closer to being an anti-racist organization.

To sum, historian Mitch Kachun considers that celebrations of the end of slavery have three goals: “…to celebrate, to educate, and to agitate.”On Juneteenth, we recognize African American history and pay tribute to the ways in which their roles and contributions have enriched our society. We also recognize the work that must still be done. It is our hope that through our actions and conversations with others, we can continuously utilize our privileged position as a means to listen, uplift, and embrace the Black community. We invite you to join us in using this time to foster connections, educate ourselves and others, and celebrate the power of remembering.

Cowritten by Tara Linn Gonzales & Leah Wathen

Activities to Celebrate Juneteenth


Friday, June 17th

What – It is a hands-on opportunity to learn how to trace your own stories. Art of Fact presents Ancestry for All: Tracing and Telling Black and Brown Local Stories through Ancestry.com, city directories, Fold3.com, and other primary sources.
When and where – 3 p.m. on Facebook/Zoom
Who – The Institute of Public Scholarship

What – Black History Bingo & Soul Food
When and where – 6 to 8 p.m. at the Black Arts & Cultural Center
Who – The Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE)

Saturday, June 18th

What – Musical and dance performances will be a part of the annual meeting and Juneteenth celebrations of the Rootead Enrichment Center, a nonprofit organization focused on cultural liberation through healing of the mind and body. Jeanne Baraka, founder and chief executive officer of Ujima Enterprises, is also to be honored.
When and where – 12 to 4 p.m. at Bronson Park
Who – Rootead Enrichment Center

What – Resident-led barbeque and youth activities
When and where – 12 to 2 p.m. at Reed Street Park
Who – Edison Neighborhood Association and Edison Neighborhood residents

What – Black Film Festival
When and where – 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Who – Soul Artistry LLC and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum

What – Live musical performances and visual art
When and where – 4 to 7 p.m. at The Space, 320 E. Michigan Ave.
Who – Soul Artistry LLC

What – Young Poets Community Poetry Slam, and cultural playground games
When and where – 5 to 8 p.m. at Bronson Park
Who – Black Arts & Cultural Center and the Kalamazoo Public Library

Sunday, June 19

What – Live music, food, and fireworks
When and where – 4 to 8 p.m. in Washington Square area of the Edison Neighborhood
Who – Edison Neighborhood Association, Black Wallstreet Kalamazoo, and Twine Urban Winery

What – Live music, featuring DC & The DC Quintet, and the release of “Seneca Village” beer, a brew developed by employees of Bell’s Brewery.
When and where – The time is to be announced. The event will occur at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe
Who – Bell’s Brewery

What – Performances by The Velvelettes with Orchestra Jammbo’laya in partnership with the Helen L. Fox Gospel Music Center, Djembe Yaru, Suzuki Academy, and others.
When and where – 3 p.m. at the Arcadia Creek Festival Place in downtown Kalamazoo
Who – The Gilmore

What – A community read and discussion of the book “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon and queer picnic in the park
When and where – 3 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Nature Center
Who – Radicale (A Branch of Rootead Enrichment Center)

More information is expected to be available on Instagram at @juneteenthkzoo and on Facebook at juneteenthkzoo, or by contacting soulartistryinfo@gmail.com.

Grand Rapids



Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM):

BEAM is a national training, movement building, and grant-making institution that is dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black and marginalized communities.

The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation:

Named in honor of Boris Lawrence Henson, father of founder Taraji P. Henson, who suffered mental health challenges without resources or support, the Foundation exists to both normalize and improve access to mental health services for Black communities in hopes of eradicating the stigma around seeking help and support.


  1. Black and African American Communities and Mental Health. Mental Health America. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.mhanational.org/issues/black-and-african-american-communities-and-mental-health/
  2. Celebration of freedom. National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. (2022, April 5). Retrieved June 16, 2022, from http://njof.mypressonline.com/
  3. Carrega, C. (2021, October 13). Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of whites, new report on state prisons finds. CNN. Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/13/politics/black-latinx-incarcerated-more/index.html
  4. Collins, S. (2022, June 6). Juneteenth isn’t just a celebration of freedom. It’s a monument to America’s failures. Vox. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/23096448/juneteenth-history/
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  10. Juneteenth is a day of celebration! (2022). Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. https://charlottelegaladvocacy.org/juneteenth-is-a-day-of-celebration/
  11. Juneteenth World Wide Celebration. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.juneteenth.com/
  12. Kaur, H. (2021, June 19). The Juneteenth flag is full of symbols. Here’s what they mean. CNN. Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/19/us/juneteenth-flag-meaning-explainer-trnd/index.html/
  13. Knight, Gladys L. (2011). “Juneteenth”. Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture. Greenwood. pp. 798–801.
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