Celebratory event at Williams Center brought together students, faculty, and staff to reflect on new federal holiday
Members of the Lafayette College community came together on Friday (6/16) to observe and reflect on the significance of Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.
Gathered in the Williams Center for the Arts lobby and welcomed by Ricardo Reyes, director and curator of Lafayette’s art galleries, students, faculty, and staff mingled at tables decorated with red, white, and blue Juneteenth flags to hear a variety of messages and enjoy a lunch of red foods, which symbolize resilience and joy, including red cabbage slaw, red potato salad, and red velvet cupcakes.
Aaron Pride, assistant professor of Africana studies, spoke about a series of events in American history that ultimately led to Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
“We have three federal holidays to celebrate the sacrifice” that led to the freedom of Black people in the United States, Pride said. “We say thank you, but there can be no equality without justice. The struggle continues. Black lives matter.”
Attendees also heard from Ana Ramirez Luhrs, Kirby librarian, head librarian for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, and chair of Lafayette’s DEI committee, and Nicole Eramo, chief of staff, Office of the President.
“We really hope that this is just the beginning of further celebrations and further opportunities to come together here on campus but also with the community, and be a bigger part of the Juneteenth events in the community,” Eramo said. “I’m hoping it’s a harbinger of things to come for the College as we’re thinking about our bicentennial.”
Karen Britt, president of Juneteenth Lehigh Valley and professor of business and economics at Northampton Community College, thanked Lafayette for its co-sponsorship of JuneteenthLV. The event, June 11-19, spanned the three cities of the Lehigh Valley and offered more than a dozen events, including the Lehigh Valley’s first Juneteenth parade held in Easton.
“I really wanted to elevate the accomplishments of African Americans and people from the African diaspora into the fabric of our nation,” Britt said. “The story begins with slavery, but it does not end there.”
She noted how the term “melting pot” has long been applied to describe the nation’s diverse mix of cultures and ethnicities.
“But I don’t really like that, because when we are a melting pot, you become this homogenized goo,” Britt said. “And that’s really not giving people an opportunity to be their authentic selves. But if you’re a stew, the pea remains the pea, the corn remains the corn, and the piece of beef remains a piece of beef. But together they taste so much better. And they can be their authentic selves.”
The event also featured Miles Doria-Raj ’25, Edna Sam ’26, and Willem Birgel, a Muhlenberg College student, who read the Emancipation Proclamation.
After lunch, attendees accompanied featured artist Shawn Beeks on a tour of the exhibition Rinse & Repeat: Shawn Beeks Draws from the Goodman Collection in the Williams Center Gallery.
This year marks the first year Juneteenth is observed as a federal holiday. In 2021, President Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, as a federal holiday. It marks the date when U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops landed in Galveston, Texas, to formally inform enslaved Black people there of their freedom, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.