UM and Ann Arbor NAACP host inaugural symposium in June
Working with the Ann Arbor branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the University of Michigan closed its first-ever symposium in June on Saturday. The virtual symposium featured a variety of speeches, performances and workshops streamed live throughout the week leading up to the holiday, which will be celebrated on June 19.
During the symposium, President Joe Biden signed law for the first time on Thursday to designate June thenth as a federal holiday. Ann Arbor City Council also unanimously voted on Friday to recognize Juneteenth as a city-approved and celebrated annual vacation.
Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of the last enslaved people in the United States. On June 19, 1865 – about two months after the end of the Civil War and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation – a Union general in Galveston, Texas, notified the last enslaved people in the United States of their emancipation.
The university’s June symposium was sponsored by the Strategic Action Lead Team from Rackham Graduate School, the Association of Black Social Work Students, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, the Center for Social Solutions, and the Ann Arbor Branch of the NAACP.
Rackham student Kianté McKinley, co-chair of the symposium, said she felt it was important to make the Juneteenth Symposium a campus-wide event so that all students at the university can feel comfortable.
“It was important to make it a campus-wide event because the University of Michigan is a mostly white institution, but there are black students on this campus,” McKinley said. “So that (black students) really feel that they belong on this campus, we should celebrate holidays that include the black experience.”
On Monday, William Hampton, president of the NAACP Ann Arbor office, shared the story of the Juneteenth on the opening livestream for attendees. Looking back on the history of the Juneteenth Celebrations in Ann Arbor, Hampton also noted that Ann Arbor has been commemorating Juneteenth in Wheeler Park for 27 years in a row.
“Ann Arbor’s Juneteenth Celebration is one of the oldest celebrations in Michigan state history,” said Hampton at the opening of the symposium. “Wheeler Park is named after Al Wheeler. Al Wheeler is the first and so far only African American to ever hold the office of Mayor of Ann Arbor. “
In addition to being elected the city’s first black mayor in 1975, Wheeler was also the first African-American person to get a job as a professor at the university, which he did for his work in microbiology in 1959. Wheeler was appointed professor emeritus by the Board of Regents in 1982, and Wheeler Park was posthumously renamed in his honor five years later.
Symposium activities on Tuesday and Wednesday included spoken word performances by students and professors, gospel performances, and a virtual exploration of black art and culture at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art.
The fourth day of the symposium, entitled “Racial Justice Call to Action,” was dedicated to student workshops where participants could actively learn and practice anti-racism, self-esteem and self-care, and black mental health awareness. The workshops were organized and presented by the Association of Black Students of Social Work and the University of Social Work.
Law and Rackham student Hannah Lefton, who helped run a workshop titled “Showing Up for Racial Justice – White Fragility: How to be Anti-racist,” said it was important to have interactive sessions during the symposium held that are run by students.
“The live workshop was cool because it was a bit more interactive. We were able to have questions and answers and have some discussions in the chat, ”said Lefton. “I think it’s a bit more accessible for a lot of people when student leaders do that too.”
Dr. Robert Sellers, UM’s Chief Diversity Officer, was the keynote speaker for the final day of the symposium, which was also the closing livestream. As people cheerfully celebrate Juniteenth, Sellers said it was important to recognize the continued work that is required to end systemic racism.
“(The emancipation of enslaved people) was a joyous and solemn event. And as we commemorate the event, we must also acknowledge the black joy, hope and healing that not only began with the event but continues to this day, ”Sellers said. “It’s also important to realize … while June 19, 1865 marked an important date that slavery ended, it didn’t mean the end of systemic racism.”
Sellers also alluded to the ongoing struggle for racial equality in the United States, celebrating the resilience of the African American community, and encouraging members of the community to honor the legacy of Juneteenth by continuing to fight for a more just future.
“As we stand here today, we are still struggling to have our humanity recognized by our own government and our own country,” said Sellers. “That means that we always have to fight for it, so that we can really accept and have our freedom. Because freedom does not have … and there will never be, free. “
Dr. Martino Harmon, UM Vice President of Student Life, gave the closing remarks at the symposium. Harmon closed the week of the event on a positive note, inviting attendees to reflect on how the symposium and holiday will contribute to a better understanding of history and individual identity. In particular, Harmon said that everyone should focus on improving justice in their individual communities and continue to celebrate hope and progress each day of the year.
“Just like June 19, 1865, we (today) celebrate freedom and know we will have a better country, a better society, and a better Michigan,” Harmon said. “Junieenth Symposium 2021 may have come to an end, but our joy, hope and healing continue.”
On the list of events for the symposium on Saturday was a two-hour march for freedom from Fuller Park to Wheeler Park in Ann Arbor. This is an annual event for the Ann Arbor NAACP.
McKinley, who attended this year’s march, said he enjoyed meeting people outside of the UM community during the march.
“I’ve met a lot of black federal judges, black politicians, and black people who have lived in Ann Arbor for years and who have just retired,” McKinley said. “It was great just meeting people from the community outside of the school campus.”
Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at [email protected]