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For educators, national Juneteenth holiday enhances a conversation about a long struggle for justice

Juneteenth Lincoln Museum
Posted at 11:47 PM, Jun 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 01:47:37-04

DENVER — Juneteenth is now a federally recognized holiday, signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday.

Some educators see it as an opportunity to enhance their teaching in the classroom.

Dr. Aaron Griffen grew up in Texas, so Juneteenth has been a part of his life for many years.

"I grew up celebrating Juneteenth because I was in Galveston," he said. "We would go to the park and some people even called it Black awareness."

Now, he has a role in bringing that awareness to students at the DSST Public Schools in Denver and Aurora as the vice president of diversity equity and inclusion.

"The more we allow children to critically engage, the more they start to recognize how we all fit in this human condition together," Griffen said. "It's more than just acknowledging. Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to celebrate together."

Juneteenth commemorates the arrival of Union troops to Galveston, Texas, to inform residents there about the freeing of the slaves.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed much earlier, the news did not get to the town until after the Civil War was over.

For Griffen, the national commemoration of this day will not change how he teaches his students, rather it will enhance the conversations pointing to the weight a federal holiday holds.

"The key is not to talk about Juneteenth in June. The kids are talking about Juneteenth as a part of the larger scope," he said. "We're having a conversation in real time about what is this move in the history of our nation."

Griffen says the goal is to look at our past and our present as a pathway, and the commemoration of a pivotal moment in American history might help shape the future in a positive way.

"What does that mean for African American people to find out that you have been free long before you find out you are free?" he said. "Slavery ended. So now, let's build on it."