Michigan State University will host its third annual Juneteenth celebration on June 16 from 5:15 to 8 p.m. at the Breslin Center. Open to the public, the event will feature music, food, vendors and conversations about the holiday’s significance.
Juneteenth honors the date that all African American slaves were freed in the United States. Although the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation is often considered the end of slavery in the U.S., enslaved people in Texas were not informed of the decree until June 19, 1865.
Now, that date holds significance to many Black Americans, who celebrate it to mark the end of centuries of enslavement and the beginning of freedom.
Event coordinator Audrey Bentley said celebrating Juneteenth is important for commemorating Black liberation and highlighting the solidarity and culture of the Black community.
“(Juneteenth) is about liberation,” Bentley said. “It's very important not to lose sight of the history that is a part of many of our realities, and it's important for us to acknowledge it. When things are achieved, when people make progress, when communities build and come together, we should celebrate that.”
This year’s event is a celebration of that progress. Its theme, “158 Years Later: Celebrating Progress,” focuses on the history and growth of the Black community.
Event Co-Chair Antonio White said the theme also aims to celebrate the current moment. In past years, White said, the event was more formal and speaker-based.
This year, the committee decided to go in another direction by making the event Junteenth more celebratory by featuring traditional food, with some vended from Black-owned businesses. There will also be jazz and gospel performances, as well as a Black Wall Street vendor fair.
“We really just want to highlight and celebrate where we're at right now, and with the different entertainers and pieces that are coming to the university, we're just trying to showcase these particular artists,” White said. “(We want) to showcase their talents, ... excellence and what they're able to contribute to this event.”
White noted the event is particularly important to have on MSU's campus as a place for Black community members to feel a sense of belonging and comfort.
As a Black graduate student, he said, he sometimes feels he doesn’t belong and perceives some interactions differently. White said events like these can help Black students feel a strong sense of community and support from the university.
“This event really does help with a sense of belonging because it rallies together people of a particular community so that we're able to see each other,” White said. “Additionally, it also helps showcase that (MSU) is really behind the efforts of trying to have diversity, equity and inclusiveness at the university.”
White and Bentley said although there's been progress, there is still work to be done. Juneteenth is often not taught in schools and was recognized as a federal holiday by President Joe Biden as recently as 2021. White said such events help create the space for empathy and understanding that social and political progress requires.
“In order for us to fully move forward together as a society, you have to begin to communicate with each other, as well as try to better understand each other’s experiences and try to help remedy some of those experiences that people face,” White said.
The event will be open to the public. Attendees may RSVP to reserve a meal or view more details at the event’s website. According to Bentley, all are encouraged to come regardless of identity or affiliation with the university.
“It's going to be fun,” Bentley said. “We welcome everyone to come and join us in this event and to pay tribute to the people who struggled and came before us and made it possible for us to be here today.”