Covenant House Texas recognizes Juneteenth with big celebrations
While it was only made a federal holiday just one year ago, people across the state of Texas have recognized Juneteenth for many years. From its Galveston, Texas origin, the observance of June 19th as Emancipation Day for Black Americans has spread across the world, and because it has always been part of local culture, the residents and staff at Covenant House Texas (CHTX) in Houston know just how to celebrate.
For years, staff at our Houston location have hosted a grand celebration, sometimes lasting more than just a day, says Sherri Crawford, who leads most programming initiatives at CHTX.
“We really make it a big thing,” Sherri said. “We try our best to make it huge, not just for one day but throughout the entire month.”
“We, of course, have been celebrating Juneteenth for a long time, even before it became a federal holiday. We decorate the entire safe haven building with Juneteenth items. We bring in speakers to let our youth know what Juneteenth is about and we post a lot of information about slavery and freedom,” she said.
On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 requiring that the remaining enslaved people in Texas were to be set free. Since then, the day is marked with celebrations and cookouts, guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings all across the country (and in many parts of the world, too).
The residents of CHTX are given prizes at their morning meetings for answering trivia questions correctly about the origin of Juneteenth: how many enslaved people were freed on that day, important historical figures related to the day, and more. Residents dance to local DJs, eat barbecued foods, and play games. The staff there said they vividly remember the moment Juneteenth was recognized as a holiday, stating that “it felt so good to finally feel seen,” said Felicia Broussard, chief development officer at CHTX.
Sherri agreed and added that having the day off from work now only makes the celebration that much more fun.
“When Juneteenth became a federal holiday, that just made it even better for us because we can enjoy and do a lot of different things with the youth,” said Sherri. “We make it really festive. We have balloons and streamers everywhere, we have music going. You know music, that’s a big part of our heritage.”
Sherri also emphasized how important it is for the food, decor, and entertainment to be purchased from Black-owned businesses whenever possible.
This Sunday, a local DJ who is well known for his focus on the importance of Juneteenth, will attend the festivities to provide entertainment, but also to share his knowledge. Current CHTX residents will participate in a talent show featuring their own music, art, poetry, and other performances.
But what Sherri said is most important about their Juneteenth celebration is the chance to welcome young people from all backgrounds. “It’s not just for our African American youth, it’s for everybody. We are diverse so we include everybody and get them all involved and we celebrate everybody.”
Felicia Broussard recalled the many social justice issues that have caused further division in the United States over the last two years and said that Juneteenth is something celebratory, which was much needed. “When you look at things in the media, a lot of it hasn’t been celebratory in nature but has, instead, been controversial in nature. So there’s the impact of having something that brought about a celebration of independence for a large segment of the American community,” she said.
Having Juneteenth as a nationally recognized holiday “could actually be a point of unification,” she said, “because it recognizes that whether or not your freedom day was in 1865 or if it was in 1776, the United States is a place where everybody can celebrate freedom. Now everybody can celebrate emancipation, whether it’s from England or from enslavement in this country, everybody is able to celebrate.”
She added “ It’s a chance to celebrate independence, which is our goal for our youth — that they gain their independence through Covenant House.”