Juneteenth has always been an important part of our nation’s history, but it seems to have taken on even greater significance this year. As the country sees more and more protests in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, now is the time to talk with your children not only about what Juneteenth is, but how it should be celebrated and honored every day.
But first thing’s first. Although Juneteenth has been honored as a historical event for over 150 years, some people sadly still haven’t heard about it. Juneteenth stands for the day on June 19, 1865 when Gordon Granger, a Union army general, announced federal orders that proclaimed 250,000 slaves in Galveston, Texas were free. It is a day of celebration for the Black community. That might explain why, in light of the senseless deaths of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery, (which have happened in the weeks and months leading up to Juneteenth), have shown that sadly, this country still has a long way to go when it comes to equality.
Still, it’s never too early (or late) to talk to your child about Juneteenth and explain its importance. “In the context of current protests and violence against Black people, children may question if freedom really came on that faithful June 19th day,” says Dr. Tichianna Armah, a psychiatrist and the Medical Behavioral Health Director for the Community Health Center in Connecticut. “No matter when you talk about it, this discussion remains relevant. Many in the Black community plan to celebrate Juneteenth not just on the actual day, but all week, all month and even through the next year.”
If you’re not sure how to start talking about Juneteenth, these tips can help get the conversation started.
Before you sit down to speak with your child about Juneteenth, make sure that you have a good grasp on what it actually is. “Before taking on the task of talking to your children about Juneteenth make sure you first have a clear understanding about the holiday and its history,” says Dr. Armah. “Many people, including some African Americans, were unfamiliar with the history and significance of this date in history until very recently.” Dr. Armah points out that Juneteenth was also called Freedom and Jubilee Day its early celebration, and only became a statewide holiday in Texas in 1980. “Explaining two years after the emancipation proclamation was signed, enforcement of the executive order was brought to Texas, will lead to a fair deal of questions that you yourself will want to think about before that conversation,” says Dr. Armah. “But it will largely require an acknowledgement that a lot of unfair things went on during slavery and persisted.”
Have A History Discussion
When it comes to talking about Juneteenth, you can’t discuss the celebration without bringing up slavery first…and that might make you feel uncomfortable. “The history of Black people did not begin at slavery, and if this is your first discussion with your children about the history of Black people, it should not begin with slavery either,” advises Dr. Armah. “Children should be exposed to the history and accomplishments of Black people prior to slavery both in Africa and around the world in a celebration of the rich culture they established.” Not only can this serve as a source of cultural pride for Black children, but it will also show that the legacy of the Black community did not start (and does not end) with slavery. And for non-Black children, says Dr. Armah: “This is exposure to a multicultural ideology, which is associated with more positive interactions of white people with nonwhite peers.”
Know How Much Your Child Can Handle
Starting the discussion of slavery might make you cringe, and rightly so. “Slavery was a vicious and inhumane practice in the United States so use simple words to explain this to small children and speak plainly to older children,” says Dr. Armah. But you are the best gauge as to what your child can (and can’t) handle, so give them as much information that won’t be too traumatic. Still, understanding what the Black community has gone through can help both you and your child have an even greater appreciation for Juneteenth and all that it stands for.
The sad fact of the matter is that while slavery was abolished with the 13th Amendment in 1865, there are still some stains of it that remain today. “Because of the injustice and brutality of slavery and how Black people can be treated up until today you will find yourself stuck at times,” says Dr. Armah.” There will be questions that you feel uncomfortable hearing and answers you feel uncomfortable saying.” Although it’s inevitable that your child will ask you tough questions, it’s up to you to give them the information that they’re seeking…even if that means admitting that you don’t have all the answers. “There may be things that you simply have no answer for because it does not even make sense to you,” says Dr. Armah. So don’t get down on yourself if you don’t know everything about Juneteenth, and plan to work together to find some of the factual answers together.
Engage Your Children
Ironically, not having all the answers might be where you and your child experience the greatest growth–together. “Encourage your older children with guidance and direction to explore more information about Juneteenth and come report back on some gaps in knowledge that you shared,” advises Dr. Armah. For example, you can read books or watch age-appropriate videos that talk about the Black community, Juneteenth, or even news coverage so that your child can develop an even deeper understanding of both historical and current events.
Having a discussion with your children about Juneteenth might be challenging, but it’s important for your family as you educate your children about history…so that it doesn’t repeat itself.