06 20 garfield cody juneteenth header
Jen Rosio, University of Utah Health
Juneteenth: A Day of Hope and Celebration
University of Utah Black Cultural Center’s Meligha Garfield and Sara Cody share insights on celebrating Juneteenth respectfully and emphasize the importance of understanding its history to avoid misappropriation.

uneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the United States, holds great historical and personal significance. In an interview, Sara and Meligha shared their perspectives on what Juneteenth means to them and how they celebrate this important day. With its recent recognition as a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has gained even greater prominence in American culture. However, it is essential to approach the celebration thoughtfully and avoid misappropriation. Sara and Meligha, shed light on the significance of Juneteenth and offering guidance on how to celebrate it in a respectful and meaningful way. 

What does Juneteenth mean to you both? 

Sara: Historically, Juneteenth marks the Union's arrival in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, when enslaved Black Texans were informed of their freedom, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. For me, Juneteenth represents a day of hope and celebration, symbolizing the progress made by the Black community. 

Despite the persistence of health inequities and other challenges, I find inspiration in reflecting on the advancements achieved over the years.  

Meligha: I see Juneteenth as a second Independence Day, celebrating the freedom of a significant portion of the population and recognizing the long-standing African American holiday that predated other national observances. It makes me feel joyous. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel amazing. Being an African American here in the United States, oftentimes you don't really get opportunity to really celebrate the history of African Americans in this country other than Black History Month. An actual holiday to celebrate the freedom of Black folks, here in this country, is amazing. 

How do you both honor and celebrate the day? 

Meligha: I began celebrating Juneteenth after joining the military and meeting people from Texas who introduced me to the holiday's traditions. Juneteenth is especially honored and important to me as it represents not only my second Independence Day but also the day I met my wife. I celebrate by taking the time to be out in the community as much as possible. 

Sara: My family adopted Juneteenth into our traditions to educate our adopted Black Texan cousin about his heritage. Our family cookouts and participation in community events have become cherished aspects of our Juneteenth celebrations. 

How do we thoughtfully celebrate and support without misappropriating? 

Meligha: One key recommendation is to support local Black vendors and businesses. By doing so, individuals can ensure their celebration aligns with the spirit of Juneteenth and uplifts the Black community. Moreover, understanding the history and significance of Juneteenth is crucial to avoid appropriating the holiday's cultural elements. Recognizing the efforts that led to its recognition as a state and federal holiday adds depth and meaning to the celebration. 

Sara: I suggest asking questions and conducting research to avoid misappropriation, such as understanding the appropriate attire for the occasion. By being informed and respectful, individuals can engage in Juneteenth celebrations in a way that fosters unity and inclusivity. Additionally, we emphasize that the values of Juneteenth—community, education, and support—can be upheld throughout the year. 

Supporting Black businesses, educating oneself about Black history and experiences, and actively engaging with the Black community are ways to extend the celebration beyond a single day. 

By embracing the essence of Juneteenth throughout the year and celebrating in ways that uplift and support the Black community, individuals can contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the progress made, the ongoing struggle for equality, and the importance of unity in creating a better future for all. 

Special shoutout and kudos to Betty Sawyer, who in the state of Utah has spent the last three decades championing the push to make Juneteenth a state holiday, and to Representative Sandra Hollins, who helped passed a bill that recognized Juneteenth as a day of observance in Utah in 2016.


Meligha Garfield

Director, Black Cultural Center, University of Utah

Sara Cody

Program Coordinator, Black Cultural Center, University of Utah

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