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Local diversity leaders reflect on impact of Juneteenth, bill to make it a national holiday

What is Juneteenth, and where is it celebrated?
Posted at 5:44 PM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 18:48:37-04

CLEVELAND — A bill that would make Juneteenth a U.S. federal holiday is swiftly making its way through Congress.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill Tuesday and it's expected to pass in the House sometime Wednesday. Then, it will head to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

“It's about embracing all of our history and the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Robert L. Solomon, vice-president for the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity at Case Western Reserve University.

Congress is now making an important step to embrace June 19, 1865.

On that day, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they were free.

Juneteenth recognizes and commemorates that day and now, centuries later, lawmakers are very close to making it a national holiday.

“It's profound from the standpoint of how slavery has been treated historically in our nation. I think that that has been downplayed,” Solomon said.

Solomon said acknowledging the negative parts of U.S. history is important even if it's uncomfortable.

“We can learn from those things. We can grow together and we can strengthen our democracy by paying attention to what our history shows,” Solomon said.

He said university leadership agreed and for the second year in a row, campus will be closed on Friday to commemorate Juneteenth.

They’re also hosting several events this week to educate people about that day and what it can teach us.

“It's not just about commemorating that particular day, but it is also about recognizing where it fits within the arc of history,” Solomon said.

Cleveland State University is also recognizing Juneteenth supporting both the city and the African-American Cultural Guard at their events this week.

“It's a significant step, another step in correcting the historical record of this nation,” Solomon said.

Dr. Ronnie Dunn, the interim chief diversity officer at CSU, believes that a Juneteenth national holiday will be a great learning opportunity and raise awareness about the full, true history of Black people in the U.S.

“This provides us with a great learning opportunity, a platform to inform ourselves as a nation and particularly for future generations that won't be deprived of this history and knowledge as past generations have,” Dunn said. “Now we have something that we can truly celebrate marking independence for us as well.”

He hopes that, should the bill get the final approval, the healing and learning doesn’t stop there.

“I hope this is not just another one off in the wake of all that we experienced over the past year,” Dunn said. “I hope that it's the beginning of a continuation of embracing and recognizing the full American family and the voices and experience of all of our population groups.”

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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