What on Earth is Juneteenth?

Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

From its Galveston, Texas roots, the observance of Juneteenth as the African American Emancipation Day began in 1865 and has triggered a series of far-reaching events that continue to reverberate over the decades—through the present, to the future. The commemoration of Juneteenth has spread across the United States and beyond. It has also taken root in some of our Unitarian Universalist congregations.

The JOYS of Congregational Sharing in the Central East Region:

2003. I heard the word “Juneteenth” when First Unitarian Brooklyn commemorated Juneteenth with a service filled with music of the African American tradition. A block party, co-hosted by First Presbyterian, Brooklyn and First U. This wonderful inter-faith collaboration continues now and includes Brown Memorial. Topics include a wide range of social action issues from Selma to Stonewall to Ferguson; Racism/Anti-Racism; the Sanctuary Movement; Black Lives Matter; Immigration; Environmental Justice, and more.

Inspired by First U I decided to commemorate Juneteenth from the first year I arrived at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Central Nassau (UUCCN), Garden City as Minister. We began with a worship service that included a commemoration of Juneteenth. Then we included a Southern luncheon. We now have an annual Juneteenth celebration on the Saturday before Father’s Day replete with a Southern feast and a wonderful program. Each year more and from UU congregations, Interfaith groups, as well as local neighbors attend Juneteenth. This year’s program features Reggie Harris. Among other presenters have been original Tuskegee Airmen.

I suggested that Community Church UU, consider celebrating Juneteenth too! Former DRE Janice Marie Johnson started celebrating Juneteenth and honoring the ancestors from the African Diaspora about twelve years ago. Guest musicians, storytellers and singers offer education, entertainment and Southern-themed supper. Current DRE Esther Rosado continues this tradition each year and Senior Minister Bruce Southworth always attends.

Let’s recap the UU “folk process.”

First Unitarian Brooklyn has honored Juneteenth over a 19 year span, including now under the leadership of Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau for 14 years. Community Church of NY for 12 years. And Rev. Jude Geiger who was introduced to Juneteenth while he served at First U Brooklyn now honors Juneteenth each year at the UU Fellowship of Huntington where he serves as Minister.

But, it doesn’t end here. UUCCN started a sister project with “H2 Empower” years ago when one of UUFH’s members, Helen Boxwill visited Hosannah, a small village and realized that the children needed books. As part of UUCCN’s Juneteenth Celebrations, Helen has come and set up shop with beautiful hand-crafted items to help the village in far-away Ethiopia. The library now has four walls, a roof, books, computers and teachers! UUCCN is proud to have had a small part of that.

And so, the beat goes on. Are we better together? You bet we are!

Friends, it really does take a Village…. And there’s always room for the Village to grow not only at Juneteenth, but always!

Yours, Hope

Rev. Dr. HOPE Johnson
Unitarian Universalist Association
Congregational Life
Central East Region

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One thought on “What on Earth is Juneteenth?

  1. Bergen County has had a Juneenth celebration for about 6 years; last year the 3 UU societies in the county shared a table. This year there was a problem with park rules and the celebration was cancelled—needless to say, a lot of very angry people.

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