Juneteenth holiday prompts difficult conversations among community about race, equity

Rosie Nguyen Image
Tuesday, June 20, 2023
Juneteenth now in parents' hands amid classroom bans, Houstonians say
In the midst of restrictions on diversity lesson plans, many Black Texans are urging parents to teach their children about Juneteenth in an effort to preserve the historic day for generations to come.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Juneteenth holiday signifies pride, celebration, and heritage for many people. But it's also a time when tough conversations are being had surrounding the continuing fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

While there's a lot of gratitude and acknowledgment for the progress that has been made for civil rights, some say there's still a lot of work to be done.

RELATED: How people came to celebrate Juneteenth in the United States

Valerie Newsom Garcia was visiting from Atlanta to spend Father's Day weekend with her dad in Richardson. She used this opportunity to take her young daughter to Emancipation Park on the morning of Juneteenth.

"I wanted to bring my daughter back here so she could experience this holiday that has meaning for her Texas roots and just in general, being a Black person in America," Garcia said.

Garcia and her father, Earl Newsom III, found themselves engaging in tough but insightful conversations with total strangers at the park.

Lee Perry, who lives in Fifth Ward, shared his mixed feelings about the holiday. Working in the oil and gas industry for more than 50 years and having to find original owners of land tracts, he says it's shocking how many people don't know where their ancestors lived.

"It means something different for everyone. What (Juneteenth) means to me is that right now, we don't know our history. We really don't. We don't know our true history," Perry said.

RELATED: Juneteenth: The oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.

With all of the heated debate throughout the country about banned books and excluding parts of diverse history in the school curriculum, Newsom and his daughter believe it's up to parents to take matters into their own hands.

"If the government is not putting it in the curriculum, do like my folks did. Your parents and grandparents need to talk to their children because they can't stop what you tell them at home. They can't stop what they pick up on the internet. So that's what our role is," Newsom said.

"Whatever books are banned, go get those and put them in your personal library if they're not at your school library," Garcia said.

Forty-eight miles southwest at Bates Allen Park in Kendleton, similar topics were being discussed by community members at the Fort Bend County Juneteenth celebration.

Jazz Roberts and his family drove in from Richmond to enjoy the festivities. He told ABC13 he would like to see more Black history being taught, discussed, and celebrated beyond the month of Juneteenth and Black History Month in February.

He would also like to see more companies giving their employees the day off to properly celebrate, research, and learn about the holiday.

"I couldn't go to the bank today and conduct business because it was closed for a federal holiday. If the banks acknowledge it, everyone should acknowledge it across the board," Roberts said.

RELATED: What's open, what's closed on Juneteenth

Jeremy Harris, who was visiting the area from Austin, said he didn't learn about the holiday in school. It was when his parents began bringing him to Juneteenth events that the 18-year-old understood the deeper meaning of the historical date.

"When some of my friends talked about Juneteenth, it was the stereotypical barbecue, music, and just dancing. I think it's important for us to also learn about the struggle and what we need to do to strengthen our voice," he said.

His dad, FL Harris, believes the best way forward and to work toward change is to get more people to the ballot box.

"We got to vote and fight in the voting booths. It's good to march and everything. But if you're not going to vote, then it's all done for nothing. We got to let politicians and everyone know that we're still here and we're still going strong," Harris said.

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