Reflecting on Juneteenth

As we approach Juneteenth, I find myself having conversations with people asking the question why we did not learn about this during our history classes growing up. Why didn’t we learn about the Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of 1921? Why didn’t we learn about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study of 1932? It is easy and rather popular at times to blame the education system for its failure to educate and inform, but parents have to shoulder some of that responsibility. The better question is do our children know about these events and do they have any questions. Years ago, I remember a friend of mine chiding me because I was not familiar with the latest hip-hop song or artist. Each time I failed to recognize a song; they would ask me “are you sure you are black”. At one point I asked them a few questions such as if they were familiar with the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. Did they know about Paul Laurence Dunbar, George Washington Carver, Phyllis Wheatley, or Garrett Morgan? Sadly, they knew nothing about that song or the before mentioned people causing me to ask if they were sure, they were black?

I met two centennial women on a visit to my maternal grandmother’s house when I was little. The day was memorable because I finally learned how to tie my shoes at their house. We always perceived the day that President Lincoln freed the slaves (Juneteenth) as one of great celebration. These two women emphatically told us that it was a day of anxiety and sorrow. What did being free mean? We are free to do what? We are free to go where? That conversation was impactful to me at a very young age.

As I write, I have to wonder if my daughter knows about Juneteenth. Have I shared the personal perspective of these centennial women? I honor their legacy by doing so and I cannot rely on my daughter’s school to teach all our history. It is up to us as parents to fill in the gaps and teach emotional intelligence, time management, public speaking, critical analysis thinking, and even history. Are we finding the time to reinforce the lessons of the week? Don’t judge this commentary as my attempt to give parenting advice. There is much work for me to do with my daughter along with students that I have had the pleasure of mentoring.

Last week my employer Temple University, announced our new President Dr. Jason Wingard. I was pleased that the press conference did not exhaust a lot of energy around the fact that he was the first African American to take this position, but instead presented his exemplary record of accomplishment of leadership experience in higher education. In speaking with my father, I articulated how impressed I was by the fact that there were at least three family members with doctorate degrees that Dr. Wingard thanked in his remarks. I told my father how impressed I was with his pedigree. My father was quick to point out that I had two aunts and one uncle on my mother’s side with a doctorate degree in education. On my father’s side of my family, I have an uncle who is a graduate of Harvard Law, an uncle who retired as a medical doctor, and an aunt that graduated from Howard University at the young age of 16. Shame on me for not remembering my own family history, but does my daughter know our history?

I am going to celebrate Juneteenth with my daughter and a bunch of photos to inform or remind her of our community’s history and our family history. We owe that to all those that have come before us. You say you don’t have kids? Tell a young person your history and the history of your community. Help them to grow in knowledge and grow in perspective. Nelson Mandela was quoted as saying “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Let’s celebrate Juneteenth through education and information.


Curtis J. Gregory, Senior Advisor | [email protected]

Dr. Gregory is a Senior Advisor with ESI. Dr. Gregory is a community-conscious developer of human capital and enabler of access to capital for marginalized communities. He is an expert in leadership and organizational change, and a talented asset manager, powerful motivator and staff developer, as well as an excellent communicator. Since 2017, Dr. Gregory has been on the staff of the Fox School of Business, Temple University, where he has taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Currently, he is also the Academic Director of Experiential Learning. Additionally, he continues to serve as a Project Executive with the Fox Management Consulting Practice.

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