EQUALITY & DIVERSITY

‘I think people get scared because it’s talking about slavery’: Weber State students, staff pause to celebrate and honor Juneteenth

Jun 19, 2024, 6:28 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm

Balloons at a Juneteenth celebration at Weber State University. (KSL TV)...

Balloons at a Juneteenth celebration at Weber State University. (KSL TV)

(KSL TV)

OGDEN — Utahns of all ages, races and backgrounds celebrated Juneteenth on Weber State University’s campus Wednesday.

The federal holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

Juneteenth is a blend of ‘June’ and “Nineteenth.’ On this day in 1865, enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were free. The news came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021.

Weber State student Kalijah Robinson said he grew up celebrating the day with his family. The Ogden native said in the last three years, the celebrations have grown.

“Just get with some friends who do celebrate it, kind of get the pointers shown to you so you kind of know how to celebrate it,” Robinson said. “It’s a lot about the civil rights, but it’s also about having fun and coming together.”

Students, staff and faculty members at the block party said they were passionate about everyone celebrating this day.

“I think whether that’s at a barbecue forum or even a formal setting, that’s fine,” said the university’s Black Cultural Center program manager Maryan Shale. “I think what people want people to acknowledge is the history, learning and unlearning certain things and then being able to just bring people together and understand.”

Community members at the celebration said Juneteenth is not only a day looking back on history, it’s one where we look ahead to the future, too.

“I don’t want people to want to take this day and treat it as if it was any other kind of a day,” said retired Weber State Professor Forrest Crawford.

A Juneteenth celebration at Weber State University. (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

He played football for the college and graduated in 1975. He said he became a faculty member in 1991. Crawford said he’s seen conversations and celebrations about race change throughout the years.

“I’ve seen Weber State evolve in the number of faculty that we have on campus, the number of students of color that we have on campus, but I’ve also since seen Weber State, particularly in the last two or three years, begin to dissipate in terms of numbers of students, numbers of faculty and professional staff (of color,)” Crawford said. “That kind of concerns me a bit about whether we are starting to take steps backward? Or do we just need to work harder to bring forward to ensure that our faculty and students of color are an integral part of this institution?”

He encouraged attendees to reflect on the history of June 19, 1865.

“I want people to be more reflective, I want them to be more conscientious about why we are doing this and not because a bunch of people say, ‘Let’s get together,'” Crawford said.

He recommended people take a closer look at the Emancipation Proclamation and understand the framework it laid out. He said awareness is not enough; people need to take action to properly honor the historic day.

“You have to act, you have to be something,” Crawford said. “You have to do something. You have to manifest your actions as a result of your awareness.”

Speakers said Juneteenth is not only for the African American community, it’s an American celebration.

“We’re actually just celebrating good news, that’s all it is,” Shale said.

She spoke about how the state’s new diversity law, which bans diversity, equity and inclusion programs and offices at Utah colleges, public education and government offices starting July 1, impacts the students she works with.

“With the changes, we’re still able to celebrate and let students know there is still a presence, there’s still representation,” Shale said. “We’re not just confined to roles and centers. There’s still experiences … We’re going to continue to just do what we can for our students and make sure they feel at home.”

A Juneteenth celebration at Weber State University. (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

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‘I think people get scared because it’s talking about slavery’: Weber State students, staff pause to celebrate and honor Juneteenth