(June 16, 2021) – In a live, virtual session just days before Juneteenth, the Be Well Community hosted a panel discussing the celebration and its importance in American history.
Juneteenth is considered to be the largest celebration of freedom for black people in America. In early 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which essentially freed those enslaved in the Confederacy. However, not all slaves across the Confederacy or country immediately experienced freedom.
Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, a Union solder led troops into Galveston, Texas with the news that the war was over and so was slavery. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated to honor American history, the contributions of black Americans to society and to recognize the progress left to make for equality and equity for all people.
During Wednesday’s discussion, panelists shared their own experiences with Juneteenth, why its history should be taught in public schools and how community members can create safe spaces for black Americans.
Dr. Shelly Farnan described the history of Juneteenth and explained why Burrell Behavioral Health is committed to these conversations and Inclusion.
"At Burrell, we seek to honor, support, celebrate all humans all year long, our employees, our community, the partners we serve with,” Farnan said.
The panelists included:
- Kai Sutton, Empowerment Coach for Women and Girls, NAACP President of Springfield Chapter
- Janelle Billy, Burrell Behavioral Health Human Resources Business Partner
- Keke Rover, Director of Ambassadors for Children
- Dr. Shurita Thomas-Tate, Speech-Language Professor at MSU, Springfield Public School Board Member
Keke Rover was the only panelist who said she grew up in a pro-black community in Chicago, IL. She said in her school, teachers would start lessons with a history book and then have students close them to teach what was left out, including Juneteenth. However, she said the holiday wasn’t as widely celebrated as the Fourth of July.
"More people are recognizing that this is a part of American history. This is a part of who we are as a whole, no matter where you are, in being an American, this is a part of your history as well,” Rover said.
Kai Sutton also grew up in Chicago. She had heard about the holiday from a few family members but it wasn’t something that was really celebrated or talked about.
“We're free but there's still so much more work to do, to claim for freedom,” Sutton said.
Dr. Shurita Thomas-Tate said she was 18 years old when she first heard about Juneteenth at her Louisiana college.
"The idea that we have to sparse out our history and create our own opportunity to celebrate the things that we've achieved and we've accomplished, it's pretty sad,” she said. “It’s important that we recognize the contributions that African Americans have had in our society and that's part of what happens for Juneteenth.”
Janelle Billy said she grew up in Houston, TX., but also did not hear about Juneteenth until college.
"Juneteenth has really empowered me because I feel like in the celebration of it, it really speaks to the resiliency of our people and all that we have overcome and all that we'll continue to overcome in the space of people care, people want to learn and it's up to us to educate,” she said.
Unfortunately the freedom celebrated on Juneteenth only proved to be the transformation of "slavery," as America entered into eras of post-reconstruction, Jim Crow and other oppressive practices that still carry significant effects today.
Dr. Shurita Thomas-Tate said Juneteenth is a clear indication of systematic racism.
"Unfortunately, kids like myself, what we grow up learning about African Americans and our contribution to America is slavery. That's it. We don't even talk about what happens to black people beyond slavery. We talk about the Emancipation Proclamation but that didn't even include me,” Thomas-Tate said.
She said American history lessons in schools should be all encompassing, and include more about the truth in black history.
"History is determined by who is telling the story but there's more than one story. We have to tell multiple perspectives. Even if you don't agree with my perspective, my perspective deserves to be told,” she said.
Kai Sutton said children cannot grow up to become productive, educated members of society if they are only taught about history as one population of people, white individuals experienced history.
"Think back about our ancestors, how mental health affected them back then. They didn't have panels or allies to make them feel included,” she said.
Dr. Shelly Farnan brought brain science to life, as is the goal of the Be Well Community, to consider wellness from all angles. Farnan said, for anyone to achieve mental health wellness, they must experience inclusion.
“Inter-generational trauma must be part of this conversation, which is why, as the community mental health center, we have to have these conversations,” she said. ”Our brains develop based on what we've experienced and what our ancestors before us have experienced."
Janelle Billy pointed out that black Americans don’t feel included unless they feel safe.
"I guess I've never said it out loud, but slavery mentality has not left the black community,” she said.
Billy referred to the Three-Fifths Compromise.
“[Slaves] weren't even considered a whole person, imagine that for a second,” she said.
Billy described her own experiences, often finding herself as the only black woman or person of color in certain workplaces or scenarios.
“The ongoing trauma is relived in so many other experiences,” she said. “For me, having those relationships helps me build a safer space in feeling like what I say and what I go through actually does matter."
Billy went onto explain how others in the community can support their black neighbors. She referred to a saying: “Proximity does not equal relationship.”
"So if you are not showing up, if you're not doing the work, you really can't call yourself an ally,” she said.
Billy said anyone could learn more about black experiences by going to a Juneteenth event.
“Meet somebody new, ask them to go to lunch,” she said. “I mean, really build those relationships so you can be a safe space for somebody like myself to feel like we're welcomed here."
Dr. Shurita Thomas-Tate encouraged everyone to use Juneteenth as an opportunity to learn more about black history, as it is American history. She said there are many virtual events to celebrate the holiday as well.
Keke Rover called on each member in the community to go one step further in having conversations with their friends and family about the meaning on Juneteenth.
Kai Sutton said Juneteenth is a symbol of freedom, but it’s just as much a celebration of progress.
"We all aren't free until everyone is free so it's important to continue to raise awareness so I'm excited to teach my children and children in the community about the history,” Sutton said.
Burrell Behavioral Health is thrilled to be participating in Juneteenth celebrations in multiple regions this year. Here's a list of where Burrell will be during this important week for equality:
Southwest Region: Juneteenth Celebrate Freedom
- When: Saturday, June 19, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Where: Silver Springs Park and Pool in Springfield, Mo.
- What: A celebration honoring the 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery
- More information available here
Central Region: Juneteenth Celebration Block Party
- Saturday, June 19, 2021, 12-2 p.m., Free
- Location: Douglass Park
- More info
Arkansas Region: Various in-person and online celebrations
Burrell is in awe of the events happening this month in Northwest Arkansas in honor of Juneteenth. While the Juneteenth Celebration of Family, Community & Freedom is virtual this year, we are participating in the Juneteenth Swag Bag, which 500 participants will enjoy!
We have developed a new flyer of leading Mental Health Resources for the Black Community to provide as well as beloved Burrell Swag! For all of the details on Juneteenth in NWA, visit https://juneteenth.uark.edu/.
About the Be Well Initiatives
The Be Well Initiatives were established in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic for Burrell Behavioral Health employees to connect and experience community while working from home and navigating the uncertainty of the coronavirus. That effort was expanded to Facebook Live to allow access for all people. Through intentional self-care and connection, the Be Well Community brings brain science to life to help everyone experience hope and healing.
About Burrell Behavioral Health:
Burrell Behavioral Health is one of the largest community behavioral health providers in the nation, working with more than 40,000 clients in 8 counties in Arkansas and 17 counties in Missouri. Burrell has more than 400 licensed providers offering a full continuum of care through our integrated network. Services include individual therapy and counseling, addiction recovery, psychiatric and medication management, educational and therapeutic groups, crisis intervention, medication-assisted treatment, adult stabilization, case management, residential treatment, autism, diagnostic testing and evaluations and developmental disability support. Learn more about Burrell’s programs and services at www.burrellcenter.com and www.burrellcenter.com/arkansas.