June 23, 2020 by Elaney Tedder
This year, Juneteenth (June 19th, 2020) marks the 155th anniversary of the date when enslaved people in Texas finally received word that President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two and a half years earlier. Juneteenth, also known as African American Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is traditionally a celebration of freedom for the African American community; however, at a moment when our country is reckoning with racism and discrimination that has permeated the history of our country and universities for centuries, the University of Pennsylvania asked members of the community, including the English Language Programs, to take the day away from their regular work responsibilities and reflect on the historical significance of Juneteenth. This opportunity for reflection is especially important for our department, since we often serve students who may be subjected to discrimination based off of their language ability, skin color, countries of origin, and religion, among other things.
On Thursday, June 18th, before the ELP took off for Juneteenth, ELP staff were asked to share how they would be spending the day. Here are some of their responses:
Ian Nichols, Advising Specialist: “My wife and I plan to call our city council members, the mayor, our senators, and our representative to push for budget changes for public services, restrictions on police, and protections for voting rights. We plan to talk about mass incarceration with each other and read from Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair, which has a lot of thought-provoking ideas about restorative justice.”
Felicia Potter, Language Specialist: “I’m taking myself on a tour of some nearby underground railroad sites in Kennett Square: https://www.kennettundergroundrr.org/”
Kyra Raphaelidis, Lecturer: “I recommend students watch Blackish Season 4 Episode 1. (I recommend Blackish in general, but that episode specifically is about Juneteenth.)”
Kara St. Francis, Enrollment & Operations Assistant: “I had difficult talks with family members and discussed history that they should know.”
Lisa Taglang, University Connection Programs Manager: “My plans for tomorrow are to finally start a book that's been on my list for a while- it's called White Fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin DiAngelo, and then to deliver meals to homeless and elderly folks in Philly with my daughter and some others from my community.”
Robyn Turner, Short Open Enrollment Programs Manager: “We will be starting the day with a virtual event through the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. If the weather stays clear, we are hoping to go on a hike tomorrow near an underground railroad sight in Delaware County which is now a historic bed and breakfast.”
Thank you to the ELP staff members for being open about their plans on this important day, and thank you to the University for allowing us this time to reflect on what this day means for all of us, especially as a department that works regularly with students who are often members of marginalized groups. Finally, thank you to Lisa Taglang for contributing the great idea of doing a story on Juneteenth. We hope that these reflections and hard conversations do not end with Juneteenth and continue throughout our day-to-day lives.