“Congress OK’s Juneteenth as a federal holiday.” This week’s news made me feel elated. And it also got me thinking about the significant meaning of Juneteenth in my family and home community. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I might not YET know much about winning a Super Bowl, but I do know a thing or two about Juneteenth.
My parents were active members of an organization called B.U.I.L.D. (Build, Unity, Independence, Liberty and Dignity). This was a group of Black and other ethnic community leaders, activists and concerned individuals united to address the systemic problems that negatively impacted our communities. In 1976, when I was 12 years old, B.U.I.L.D. sponsored the first citywide Juneteenth celebration in Buffalo. It is now one of the longest running, and the third largest, Juneteenth celebrations in the world. As an attendee, and as a young volunteer, I have vivid memories of the music, dance, food, arts and crafts, and the amazing stories.
On the surface it may seem odd for Buffalo to have such a prominent role in the history of Juneteenth celebrations. But what most people don’t know is that because of its shared border with Canada, Buffalo was an important destination as one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves seeking freedom into Canada. Many decided to make Buffalo home. This is how my mother’s side of our family ended up in Buffalo. It is also why my mother moved to Buffalo from Mississippi in the late 1950s to escape the pain of being technically free but living under Jim Crow laws of the South that mandated racial segregation and institutionalized inequity – – thereby extending her feeling of being enslaved.
When I called my mother to share my excitement about this week’s headline we spoke about the incredible work that The Dimock Center does, and she shared how it reminded her of the B.U.I.L.D. organization. In fact, we are a similar group of leaders, activists and concerned individuals dedicated to breaking down the barriers that prevent everyone from experiencing the same freedoms.
June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) is the day we celebrate – that day more than two years after slavery was abolished when the slaves in Galveston, Texas learned that they were free. Making this day a federal holiday gives me hope that we are moving towards a day when Black Americans will not only receive the news of their freedom but will actually experience the same opportunities afforded to those who are free.
As I mark my first six months at The Dimock Center, I am honored to be a part of this resilient, beautiful community as we celebrate this historic moment – for our Dimock staff, patients, and families; for our neighbors; and for our country.
Have a wonderful Juneteenth!
Charles Anderson, MD
President and Chief Executive Officer