Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day – two and a half years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation – that slaves in Texas at long last received news of their freedom via General Order No. 3. 

To observe this holiday and to further the College’s commitment to strengthening the bonds of racial justice, Siena hosted its first-ever Juneteenth celebration on May 5. Isis Young MBA ’22 hosted the hybrid event, which featured live remarks and readings staged in front of Siena Hall, plus pre-recorded reflections. Watch the event HERE

“I hope the audience learned the history and significance of Juneteenth, and that true change happens when we open our eyes and reflect on our actions towards all people,” said Young. “I hope our community feels empowered and responsible to speak up in situations of injustice. It was important for me as a Black woman to represent and educate my community, as I strive to continue our great legacy. The Black and African American community should be celebrated, and not tolerated!” 

“This means a lot to all of our hearts,” Young said at the opening of the event. “To many citizens, especially the Black and African American communities, this day represents our country's first small step in ensuring equality of personal rights for every single American. And to reflect on our country's efforts, thus far in the fight for true equality, which is still ongoing, and very much far from over.”

Following a performance by the Siena choirs of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Back national anthem, President Chris Gibson ’86 Ph.D. spoke.

“This is Independence Day for so many Americans, and a very important day, therefore, for all Americans, as we endeavor to live up to what we put on paper.”

Fr. Tito Serrano spoke of the history of Juneteenth and noted the lapse of two years before the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect in Texas.

“Unfortunately, there are many people who have forgotten or were never taught the significance of this date,” he said. “This is not because of any grand conspiracy, nor was it even intentional. The truth is far sadder: indifference. Society's refusal to recognize the gravity of the injustice of what generations of people were forced to endure has not been truly acknowledged.”

Why did the news take so long to reach the slaves in Texas? One theory is that a messenger was murdered on his way to the state. Another is that news was deliberately withheld to keep people enslaved on the plantations there. A third is that federal troops actually waited to allow slave owners to reap one last cotton harvest before granting slaves their freedom. 

Jamar Byron ’24, read General Order No. 3, and Young presented a plaque to President Gibson with the wording of the order, which will now hang in the president’s office. 

Lulama Nyembe ’22 read reflections submitted by students, and Kara Petreikis ’23, Trixie Castro ’23 and Elani Hall ’23 took turns reading from the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise.” 

“You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt but still like dust I’ll rise.”

Nadiyah Roberts-Green, ACE diversity coordinator, read her own poem “Tomorrow is Always Waiting for Tomorrow.”

“So, to be integral is to acknowledge that their lives must matter to you, it has never been about what is black versus blue, but instead about the lack of reciprocity that we put in our news, and if there is an injustice, for one, do we all lose.”

Although the actual holiday is June 19, College leadership believed it essential to observe Juneteenth as a full community. A second ceremony will be held next month.