Covenant House Celebrates Freedom Day: Juneteenth
On June 19 we celebrate Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It was June 19, 1865, that Union Major General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 requiring that the remaining enslaved people in Texas were to be set free. Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth is a monumental day celebrating our collective history and the beauty and contributions of the Black and African American community to the fabric of our country. Juneteenth is also an occasion to reflect, teach, and share conversations around Black history, as well as the ongoing struggle for equality and freedom, reminding us of the value of never giving up “hope.” Hope is the cornerstone of Covenant House’s mission in our commitment to the unconditional love and support that we provide every young person that walks through our doors. We honor their experiences, lift up their voices and walk alongside them as they navigate the world that oftentimes judges them because of the color of their skin. At Covenant House, we hold to the hope and a belief that Black and brown youth deserve to pave their path forward where racism, discrimination, and racial inequities are not traumas that define their future.
Through the recognition and celebration of Juneteenth, we share with our youth the “hope” and perseverance of those before them who have fought to ensure the contributions of their ancestors are woven into the fabric of our country's history, like the legacy of Opal Lee, also known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” At the age of 94, Opal Lee was the champion dedicated to ensuring that Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday, a movement she started in 2016. Opal Lee began her journey by walking from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in 2.5-mile increments, in recognition of how long it took for enslaved people in Texas to learn of their freedom. This act of symbolism became known as “Opal’s Walk 2 DC” and 2.5 mile walks were hosted in whatever city Opal Lee was asked to attend a Juneteenth celebration. Lee’s Change.org petition garnered over 1.6 million signatures supporting Juneteenth as a federal holiday and through her commitment, Lee supported the introduction of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the bill into law officially designating June 19th as a federal holiday.
On this Juneteenth holiday we are grateful for the “hope” personified by Opal Lee. She lifts up what is possible when we do not give up, a message that, through her story, resonates with our young people — a reminder to always be a champion for your dreams.