By Dr. Dwayne Dyce
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For educators, June is the time of year when students and teachers are preparing to spend the summer with their families during a well-deserved break from the structured education setting, virtual and in-person classrooms, stressed out supervisors, early morning alarm clocks and strong morning coffee. The month of June is, also, full of celebrations for everyone that span a wide variety of historic movements, social initiatives, and respectful observance of events that substantially impact our society. June, therefore, presents an opportunity to continue our learning by reflecting on what these celebrations signify in a historical context. Learning about celebrated events serve to both satisfy the unquenchable thirst for knowledge each educator has, while expanding upon our informational growth mindset, empowering us with new facts and ideas that we may bring into the classroom next school year.
A few of this month’s most popular celebrations include National Headache and Migraine Awareness, African American Music Appreciation, Men’s Health, LGBTQIA Pride, National Safety, and National Caribbean-American Month, Father’s Day, and Juneteenth. I am inspired to deepen our understanding of the pivotal roles Juneteenth and Caribbean-American history play in our development and culture, because these two historic events shaped the lives of black and brown people in the Caribbean and America.
Juneteenth and Emancipation
President Biden made Juneteenth a Federal holiday on June 17, 2021. This holiday is a monumental contribution to US history that officially commemorates the June 19, 1865, emancipation of enslaved African American people, which paved the way for the significant contributions former enslaved people and their ancestors have made in the past and continue to make in America, today.
In Jamaica, my people also fought for their liberty from the injustices of enslavement, resulting in the self-sacrifice of many freedom fighters before obtaining emancipation in 1834. The similarity to the African American fight for liberation is not lost on the Caribbean people who deeply identify with the emancipation of enslaved people in America because this shared historic plight, of former enslaved ancestry, fundamentally unites Caribbean and African American people whose forefathers’ and foremothers, participated in the defiant acts of self-determination and social disobedience that eventually ripped away at the initial layer of inhumane laws upholding the economic system of slavery. These heroic people were able to secure emancipation for themselves and for all of us, through their fearless, unyielding strength, unimaginable patient, and relentless pursuit of freedom. Therefore, Caribbean-American history must also be a significant part of our conversations at home and in the classroom because, together, these stories paint a more complete picture of our history as world citizens.
Teaching History to Our Children
The only way to fully appreciate and preserve our history is through educational discussion that starts at home. Knowing our history propels us forward because our celebration of our past gives us the needed awareness of understanding where we started and how far we have come, so that we can know where we are going. Showing respect to those in our past, on whose shoulders we now stand, gives us pride about ourselves, in the present. Therefore, it is imperative that families talk with their children about the significance of emancipation and Juneteenth. It is by no means an easy discussion to have with a child. When I spoke with my eight-year-old daughter about Juneteenth, I found myself grappling with how to explain why people ever owned other people. This is a complex idea that I continue to struggle to understand. My daughter asked great questions, like: “Why did they own them?” and “Where were their parents?”, which opened the discussion in many meaningful directions. We imagined going back in time to better understand the historical context in which this all happened, the injustice system imbedded in the economic system of free labor, and denial of education to the enslaved.
Caribbean and American Educators in Service
As Caribbean and American educators, it is our duty to communicate our history through education, accurately. In the post George Floyd era, multiple US state laws are being enacted to limit the teaching of “black history” in schools throughout the nation. Our commitment to student empowerment through education compels us to give much of ourselves to our students and, by extension, to their parents. All children must be informed of the perpetual strength of Caribbean and American people and the contribution they have made in on all levels of education, science, leadership, and politics.
As an educator, I am fully vested in supporting our students through every opportunity I to contribute to their improved educational wellbeing. I do this through classroom instruction, creating and overseeing the implementation of student programs in schools that enhance student potential and their successful future outcomes, as well as, continuing to increase my formal and volunteer experience in educational leadership. Personally, contributing to our educators in the Jamaican diaspora has been exceedingly rewarding. It is a privilege to have led educational training seminars that provided critical support to fellow educators and administrators throughout the diaspora.
Time permitting, I strongly recommend that educators pick up the touch of service to your Caribbean colleagues by lending your talents to strengthen our countrymen and women educators.
When we keep close to the diaspora groups and have discussions with our people from the Caribbean, we realize that we have one mission – legacy. Each of us should ask ourselves, how are we advancing the welfare of our people? How much are we willing to transform them and facilitate the actualization of their self-reliance and building of community partnerships? I encourage everyone in the diaspora to be purposeful with learning and teaching historical truths as we share stories of Juneteenth and Caribbean-American history.