Professor, alumni discuss what the Juneteenth holiday means in their individual lives

By Jesús F. Jiménez, assistant director of digital content

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a U.S. federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Miami University closed on June 18 in commemoration and Miami University professor Dr. Rodney Coates presented a pre-recorded webinar teach-in about the importance of the holiday, free and available to the general public.

Dr. Coates, along with three Miami alumni, have taken time to share what this significant holiday means in their own lives.

Dr. Rodney Coates
Professor of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at Miami University

Dr. Rodney D. Coates is an award-winning public sociologist engaged in critical race, social justice, social movements, social policy and practice. He has conducted bias training for school districts and municipalities, police and universities. He works with local communities, corporations and Miami University to establish pathways to progress for underrepresented students in such fields as STEM, business and law.

“… This celebration, coming some two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, was made possible as federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865. But as with all historical events, this one is filled with ironies and paradoxes – hopes dashed and dreams unfulfilled. This event, to many, represents the duplicity of power, the cruelty of complacency and the willingness of meaning to forestall, deny and ignore the plight of the slave. Consequently, as I’ll argue in my Juneteenth teach-in, the so-called freedom of the slave was a check that continually has come back marked insufficient funds. They were offered the premise of a promise yet unfulfilled.”

Dr. Taléa Drummer-Ferrell ’06
Dean of Students at Kent State University

Dr. Taléa R. Drummer-Ferrell ’06 made history as the first Black woman to be named dean of students at Kent State University. There, she oversees the Center for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services; Office of Student Conduct; Recreation and Wellness Services, which includes the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, Kent State of Well-Being and the Ice Arena; Counseling and Psychological Services; and the Office of the Dean of Students, which includes Parent and Family Engagement and the CARES Center. At Miami University, where she majored in family studies, she was a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

“Juneteenth, to me, is an important date for us to remember, to never forget. It’s a date that often, we are not taught. It’s a legacy that we need to carry forward, but it’s also something that shows us where we’ve come from. We are built from ancestors that are strong because they’ve made the middle passage and they survived it. It’s also important for us to see ourselves beyond our enslaved ancestors, but also be able to honor them and remember them and live in their legacy and continue to make them proud. On Juneteenth, I think it’s very important to make sure that we’re sharing the stories, and we remember the legacies and memories no matter how ugly or gruesome they were, so that way we know what we’re made of, what we’re built of and how we can grow from that.”

Candice White ’15
Retail Branch Manager at KeyBank

Candice White ’15 majored in small business management at Miami’s Hamilton campus and also has an associate’s degree in criminal justice. She’s active in the city of Hamilton and been planning the inaugural Juneteenth Celebration. She is a member of the BTW Community Center Board and a member of the City of Hamilton Planning Commission. Her older sister is alumna Monique White ’07!

“… My meaning of Juneteenth is celebrating the advancements and achievements of minorities – whether that be in business, education or personal goals. This is a very important time right now, as our country and many companies within our country have shifted their focus to diversity, equity and inclusion. This year is very special to me, as well as it should be to other minorities celebrating Juneteenth, being the advancements that we’ve seen with policy changes and moving the needle with companies being intentional about recruiting African American talent, promoting internally and minority businesses that have been in the spotlight. Juneteenth, to me, is deeper than just celebrating our freedom – it’s about celebrating and recognizing our future, recognizing our leaders, recognizing our youth and those who are making strides in the communities that are most important to us.”

Ifeolu Claytor ’17
Ohio Campaign Manager at All Voting is Local

Ifeolu Claytor ’17 is the Ohio campaign manager for All Voting is Local, which works to remove discriminatory barriers to the ballot to achieve a democracy that works for all. He has experience as a campus organizer for the Warren for President campaign and has worked as a research associate for Burges & Burges Strategists. He serves on the board of the Cleveland Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, coordinating community and social action for the chapter and region. His sister, Christen Newton ’08, is also a Miami alumna and his brother, Kayin Claytor, is a senior.

“To me, Juneteenth is a consistent reminder that policy and legislation and statements mean nothing if there is no action. We have to remember the fact that people in the state of Texas were enslaved for two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation because no one had bothered to act. If we claim to want change, we have to do more than speak it – we have to act on it.”

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