Members of the Michigan State community gathered inside the halls of the Breslin Student Events Center on June 17 for the second annual Juneteenth celebration.
The event was filled with food, friends, and family, and welcomed Black-owned businesses and guest speakers to reflect on what Juneteenth stands for and look toward the future.
Historically Juneteenth is celebrated as the emancipation day, commemorating the freeing of slaves on June 19, 1865; two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. It’s used as a time to reflect deeply on Black history and the Black experience in the United States but to also celebrate Black culture within the community.
This year’s event focused specifically on Afrofuturism. By definition, Afrofuturism is an intersection of ideas; it combines technology and science and moves toward reimagining Blackness in America from a non-eurocentric view. It is embedded in the past and combines Black knowledge with current culture to break down false narratives and perspectives, with an ultimate aim to make a more equitable future.
Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said he hoped the event echoed the university's continued efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion, highlighting faculty, students and community coming together for this continued and collective goal.
“We are not powerless in the face of opposition as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but bends towards justice,” Stanley said in his speech. “Therefore, a university like Michigan State can represent an inflection point on that curve.”
English professor Julian Chambliss was the keynote speaker for the Juneteenth celebration and spoke extensively on the topic. He believes that the conversations had at the event were reflections of things he speaks about in his classroom and others every day.
“As someone who's engaged with technology and digital spaces, my goal is trying to make things more accessible, and try to tell stories that aren’t often told and try to make an impact in that way,” Chambliss said. “And we can see that in the work of the grad students I've worked with, and we can see that, you know, in a lot of my colleagues so, in some ways, we're always doing things a little bit Afrofuturist.”
The celebration was very much Afrofuturist as well, even outside of the theme. It was a collection of past and present; both history and people.
Speakers related through their shared experiences of being Black in America, but ranged from board members to students—the current change-makers and others who are very much coming into their own to reshape perspective in their own way, such as Black Graduate Student Alliance President Antonio White and Black Student Alliance President Marcus McDaniel Jr. who are already doing this at the university.
“It's always exciting to have students engage with this because it's so important and I think they're really remarkably talented,” Stanley said. “And I think when they have harnessed that talent for social good like this is particularly important.”
“Michigan State wants to be a leader, not just in this community but around the state in social justice.”
Nyshell Lawrence is the owner of Socialight Society, a bookstore that carries stories of the Black experience that has been underrepresented to this point. She was one of the several Black-owned businesses present at the event. One of her favorite things about her store is that it is able to celebrate and share the ideals that Juneteenth brings with it every day and continue to push the conversation toward the future.
Lawrence saw the theme of Afrofuturism as essential to explore and interlaced within her own work.
“Just thinking about the future of what is to be Black and what that Black experience is,” Lawrence said. “I think a lot of times we focus heavily on the past, which is super important. We need to know about it, we need to read about it. But also we need to be able to build off of that to see what our next steps are and where we're going to end up.”
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.