To the UMPI community,
On June 19th, 1865, Union forces landed at Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and that all of those who had been enslaved were now free. This news, of course, came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Thus, Juneteenth is both our nation’s oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of slavery’s ending in the United States and a simultaneous reminder of the necessary resolve and commitment that we must all make, each and every day, to end the injustice, disparity, and inequity that persists within structures of systemic racism and cultural privilege within our nation. For Proclamations and Executive Orders do not end such injustice—only the actions of dedicated individuals, working together, can do so.
In 2011, Maine became the 38th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, under legislation sponsored by former state Representative Denise Harlow of Portland. However, as this date remains unrecognized as a national holiday, despite long-standing efforts, it requires each governor to issue a yearly proclamation designating the third Saturday in June to be so noted as “Juneteenth Independence Day to commemorate the day freedom was proclaimed to all slaves in the South.”
In recognition of Juneteenth’s message of freedom from oppression, and most especially in our recognition of the courage and dedication undertaken by the countless individuals working to end systemic racial injustice and its manifestation—in ways both explicit and implicit—in our social structures and institutions, I encourage us all to reflect upon the roles that we may play and the support that we must provide. As both an individual of privilege myself and a witness to the injustices and inequities that loved ones and friends and colleagues have endured and continued to endure, I recognize my own need to engage these issues with honesty and humility. We continue to live and work within a society that provides overwhelming evidence of systematic differences in regards to support and opportunity for so many individuals within this nation. But for those who do not live out such inequities on a daily basis, it is all too easy for such systemic injustice to remain invisible.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle, like the State of Maine itself, aspires to be an agent of progress and change in advancing equity and justice. We have much to take pride in to this effect, and both this State and our institution have seen positive change over the past years, but it would be disingenuous to claim that we don’t have a tremendous amount of work before us and that what we have accomplished is nearly enough. As a community, we must both see and hear more than we have in the past, listen to the voices of those who remain, to this day, unheard or ignored, and, with humility and compassion, commit ourselves to ending systemic racism and systemic inequities of all forms in this institution, our State, our nation, and our communities. Our curriculum and programming, our services and functions, in the classroom and on the athletic field, on the campus and in the community, must all reflect this re-dedication. That work has already begun—through Strategic Planning, through the dedication of student groups and activities, through greater engagement with our local municipalities and places of business—but it will only succeed through lasting cultural transformation. The University of Maine at Presque Isle must both practice and model that transformation.
As I noted above, Proclamations and Executive Orders cannot end injustice—without action, they remain but words and empty gestures. But I can signify, in one small way, this institution’s commitment to this overwhelming need by initiating formal recognition of June 19th henceforth as an official holiday at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. I would ask that we spend this day, each year into the future, not simply as a time of celebration, but as a benchmark by which we annually recognize, report, and review our collective efforts in our achievements—and rededicate ourselves to the work that lays before us.