Dear 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. 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. On June 17, 2021, federal recognition of the day was signed into law by President Joseph Biden through the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
Thus, Juneteenth is not simply our nation’s oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of slavery’s ending in the United States; it also illustrates the need for our abiding and continuing commitment to end the injustice, disparity, and inequity persisting within systemically unjust structures.
In recognition of Juneteenth’s message of freedom from oppression, I encourage us all to reflect upon the roles that we may play and the support that we must continue to provide. Ours continues to be a society riven by systemic differences. For those who do not live out such inequities on a daily basis, it can be all too easy for such 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 be proud of to this effect, but it would be disingenuous to claim that we don’t have a tremendous amount of work before us or that what we have accomplished is nearly enough. The University of Maine at Presque Isle must continue both to practice and model such work not just for ourselves, but for our communities.
Proclamations and Executive Orders cannot themselves end injustice—without action, they remain but words and empty gestures. But we can spend this holiday not simply as a time of celebration but also as a benchmark by which we annually recognize, report, and review our collective efforts—and rededicate ourselves to the work that lies before us.