Cultural Understanding

How Do You Celebrate: Juneteenth

By: Chantel F. Grant
Two teen Black girls hold colorful signs that say Juneteenth on them.
3 minutes to read
For All Ages
Critical Thinking
Social Emotional

Tell us more about the history of Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, 250,00 enslaved Black people in Texas were told they were free. This news came two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. I believe the first Juneteenth celebration happened that day right after the announcement was made. This was a monumental event in American history.  It is our nation’s 2nd Independence Day.

I believe it is our responsibility to do all we can to share with our children a more accurate telling of our past.

What are your favorite memories of your Juneteenth celebrations as a child?

I didn’t grow up celebrating Juneteenth. The holiday wasn’t mentioned in any school or church I attended. I learned about Juneteenth 10 years ago when I went to a picnic with my co-worker. It was such an uplifting event. There was food and music and dancing and lots of laughter and sharing. I couldn’t wait to begin my own Juneteenth traditions. 

What is the most meaningful Juneteenth tradition that your family observes?

Learning together. My husband and I believe it is our responsibility to do all we can to share with our children a more accurate telling of our past. That means the learning never stops. We learn through listening to our elders, singing songs forged in the slave fields, reading books, listening to lectures, reciting poetry and participating in hard conversations. We learn about Black businesses we can support and the enslaved people that worked the land our home is built on. We commit the entire month of June to learning about the thousands of men, women and children who helped build this nation. We learn to give thanks as well as to be encouraged. We invite everyone in our community to join us. 

A girl draws a Juneteenth sign, celebrating Black independence.

Tell us about your Juneteenth holiday celebration and preparations. 

My girls love hanging stars throughout our house for Juneteenth. For them, the stars honor the slaves in Texas and symbolize a beacon of light that helps guide the way. 

We enjoy waking up early in the morning to begin cooking. We turn the music up loud and start prepping the sweet potato pies, collard greens, potato salad and barbecue while dancing and singing to the Jackson Five, Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill. Uncle David’s pound cake is a must have at our celebrations. This five-spice cake recipe has been in my family for over 79 years. It is delicious and worth every pound it will put on you! For Juneteenth, we dye the cake red to symbolize Black resilience and joy.  

About four years ago we started a neighborhood Book Swap & Talk. People share books written by African American writers. Inside the book cover is the name and number of the book owner. After a person reads the book, they contact the owner to set up a tea/coffee date to discuss it. This has been a great way for neighbors to get to know one another.

A smiling girl hangs colorful stars to celebrate Juneteenth.

What would you like other families to know about the Juneteenth holiday?

Our past truly matters. Each one of our lives has been shaped by the landscape of the past. When we deny ourselves the privilege to walk that landscape, we make it impossible for healing to happen and hope stays hidden. Hope is everything. Juneteenth is a great day to bear witness to our children about what we imagine freedom to look like. Celebrating Juneteenth as a family helps us raise children who will continue doing the necessary work of forging this more perfect union.

Author Photo
By: Chantel F. Grant

Chantel F. Grant is an editor at Highlights, mom, and a very good friend. As an Army-brat, she has lived around the world and has had the pleasure of experiencing other cultures and meeting interesting people. She enjoys exposing her children to as many people and places as she can, either by book or by plane. Children are her mission field. She serves as Children’s Ministry Director at her church and is an ER Safe Haven home for foster care children. When she isn’t working you will find her researching plant-based recipes, reading a good book, and volunteering at her local maker-to-market store, Ten Thousand Villages.