UIW Hosts 4th Annual Juneteenth Celebration

June 28, 2024

On Wednesday, June 19, UIW hosted its 4th annual Juneteenth celebration, recognizing the historical significance of how on June 19, 1865, the official word of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Texas at the end of the American Civil War. For over 150 years, Black communities throughout the nation have considered Juneteenth to be their “second Independence Day”.

UIW’s Taylor Demby and Gerald Bowie, members of the student lead social justice group “As One We Will” collaborated with the Executive Book Review, a non-profit organization whose mission is to enrich lives by sharing knowledge, wisdom and experience in a community of lifelong learners, to organize this year’s event. Together, they were able to host Professor Mario Marcel Salas, civil rights leader, author and politician to lead a book discussion on James M. Smallwood’s Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans During Reconstruction.

Smallwood’s book sheds a light on the experiences of Black-Americans in Texas during the Emancipation era and helps to highlight the relevance of Juneteenth not just with into the state of Texas but across the country.

“The Executive Book Review conducts two book reviews per month,” explained Mark Wittig, Executive Book Review representative and UIW trustee. “Our review on Smallwood’s book just happened to fall on Juneteenth. While looking for a larger venue to host the review I pitched the idea of hosting at UIW and the University that it was a great idea!”

UIW faculty, students and community members gathered in the Student Engagement Center ballroom to listen and engage in Salas’ discussion and reflect on this holiday’s importance.

“Dr. Salas has a very blunt way of saying what needs to be said,” shared Dr. Arturo Chavez, UIW associate vice president for Mission & Ministry and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “He is a courageous leader who has been on this journey working for racial justice for decades. I spoke to several participants who were deeply moved and enlightened by the presentation.”

Attendees were welcome to engage with Salas and others in the room to explore and expand on the premise of the discussion, affording them the opportunity to share their experiences and learn from others.

“I think a lot of people don’t know of or know about Juneteenth. It officially became a national holiday only three years ago. This book review was about educating and enlightening, and it helped to give a bit of a push for people to learn about the history of enslavement in the country and how difficult it was to end it. We have to know our history, and this was an important topic to spotlight,” remarked Wittig.

The event brought in the largest crowd the Executive Book Review had seen within its 11 years of operation, with more than 160 attendees present in both in-person and through Zoom combined.

“It was only in 1965 that civil rights were enshrined in law, and we are still working to ensure these rights for everyone. That wasn’t that long ago. We celebrate what we have accomplished and continue to put in the work for a better future. UIW contributes towards these efforts by giving our students the skills they need to be enlightened and committed leaders for civic engagement. Taylor and Gerald are two examples of inspirational servant leaders,” added Chavez.