Juneteenth: The Fight for Justice Continues

Each year on Juneteenth, we commemorate the day Black people were emancipated from slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved people that the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished. Juneteenth was the day that all enslaved people were told that they were free, despite it being written into law years prior. It was a critical step in our continued fight for equity, independence, and freedom.

We are reminded of the importance of this day as we continue the fight for racial justice in our country. Gradient Learning is made up of educators who are dedicated to making our classrooms places where all students feel welcomed, encouraged, and inspired to share their talents with the world. “As an educator, it is important that a true depiction of history is provided for the students and communities that I serve,” says Summit Learning Success Manager Dr. Brenda Jones. “It is imperative that students and school leaders of color see a reflection of themselves in the struggles and successes of Black people. It is important that I do my part to make sure that we fight to continue to balance the scales. Juneteenth is a reminder that the fight for justice continues.” 

To commemorate this historic day, we are sharing stories from some of the talented Black education leaders of our Summit Learning community.

Aletha R. Cherry
Director of Elementary Curriculum & Instruction

Juneteenth reminds me of when I entered an essay contest about General James Longstreet. As the daughter of an Army Lieutenant Colonel, I enjoyed researching Longstreet’s military techniques. I did not mention his segregationist ideologies and only mentioned his service during the American Civil War (which has been ignored by many Confederate supporters due to his assistance with an all Black militia in New Orleans). My essay was good enough to win the contest, but not good enough for the donors to take a photo with me or award the monetary prize once they saw a little Black girl in front of them. My view of my quiet, Quaker raised mother changed that day, as she made sure I received my gift by using her influence as a school administrator. The photo was never taken. 

As an educator, it is vital that I teach students and the communities that nurture them about the importance of equity, the pervasiveness of institutional racism, and the value of tolerance. 

Dr. Brenda Jones
School & District Success Manager

As a young Black girl raised in the South, I could pass a test on Tennessee State History in the 5th grade, but had no idea what Juneteenth was until I was 25. Up until that point, I was only exposed to a white, male-centric, incomplete version of history in school, while the history of Black people in America was glossed over. I knew about Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights movement, and slavery…but there is so much more. What about the thriving Seneca Village or Black Wall Street? Or unsung heroes like Jane Bole, Wangari Maathai, and Claudette Colvin? 

Juneteenth represents the true relationship between my ancestors and the United States of America. All students deserve to learn about this important moment in history, as well as so many others that are too often left out of textbooks and state exams. 

Adriene Marshall
Lead Math Support Specialist

In 2011, I got the opportunity to teach AP Calculus, and I was excited. My excitement quickly turned into hurt, sadness, and survival. On Back to School night, I was confronted by five angry white mothers with their husbands watching from the back of the room, upset that I was their students’ teacher — an image and a feeling I will never forget. As I left the building, I saw them talking to my principal, and I could only imagine what they were saying. Two years later, I shared this story with my colleagues. The next words I heard broke my heart. “I can confirm it was about your race, but I fought for you,” said my principal. I had never wanted to believe it was the case, but the parents had been angry I was their children’s teacher because I was Black. I cried for days. Although that first year was hard, I continued to be the AP Calculus teacher there until I moved.  

I believe if Black history and events like Juneteenth were more a part of the American fabric, it would have been more difficult for those parents to exhibit their racist and biased beliefs in that way.

Krista Purnell
School & District Success Manager

Growing up, there was never anything I thought I couldn’t do. My family instilled in me that I was capable, worthy, and smart. My dad developed my love of art and culture by regularly taking me to museums, including the African-American museum in Philadelphia. He wanted me to know my history wasn’t limited to those few textbook pages that only mentioned our enslaved ancestors and the Civil Rights Movement. He wanted me to know our people and our greatness. We were attorneys and aviators, entrepreneurs and explorers, inventors and investors, physicians, and poets. I didn’t understand at the time, but in hindsight, I’m grateful my mother made me choose Benjamin Banneker, Harriet Tubman, Matthew Henson, and Madame C.J. Walker for book reports and projects. Not only for me to connect to these powerful stories and figures in our past, but also to expose and educate my predominantly white peers and teachers. Our curriculum was not culturally responsive, and faces that looked like mine were few and far between. 

As an educator, my mission is to provide access, opportunity, and empowerment so no student is denied their chance to excel — to challenge the narratives of who can and who can’t.

Dr. Catrice Reese
Managing Director of Operations

From the time I was in grade school through college, it was apparent that the expectation of my success as a Black female was marginally lower than my white classmates. I was told that I was not welcome or did not belong in certain sports, upper-level classes, or the college of my choice. Growing up in Kentucky, many of my teachers, friends, and professors did not realize the impact of their monolithic points of view, actions, and words. In middle school, my science teacher made a clear distinction between what he expected from me compared to the other students in the class who did not look like me. It was the significantly different encouragement and expectation-setting from my Black teachers (only 2 teachers over the course of 20 years of education) that stays with me. I was fortunate to have a mother who was a Black teacher, who helped me navigate systemic bias and advocated for me to have equitable opportunities. 

It is critical that Black and Brown children have learning experiences filled with diverse people and perspectives, and can see themselves represented in their education system. Through culturally relevant education, children can find their passion and change the world.

Marjorie Smalls
Business Development & Partnerships Strategist

I grew up in lack. Not financial or socio-economical lack, but one that told me from a very young age that my work had to be twice as good as others to be seen as average. Don’t confuse this with perfection, what this meant was that I had to think deeper, be more creative, do more research and check my facts and my work twice and then one more time. I’ve always been praised for the quality of my work but never afforded the titles equivalent to my skill sets. I quickly learned not to be emotional, but to be strategic. When I entered the workforce, I found myself in meetings where no one else with my title was invited, and I was requested by leadership to manage special projects. I was referred to as a part of the “leadership team.” What I’ve found, however, is that circumnavigating an oppressive system made me resilient, but it didn’t help the greater cause. My own personal success hasn’t ended the oppression, it just made a mockery of it.
I proudly celebrate Juneteenth because it is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done for equality, humanity, and civility.

Education and a Path Forward

“For me, Juneteenth represents hope, because it reminds me of why I am in education,” says Dr. Catrice Reese. “I am hopeful that with increased awareness every child will receive an equitable education they deserve with teachers who have access to culturally relevant curriculum and training that help them truly see their Black and brown students.”  

At Summit Learning, we are proud of the work we are doing to create culturally relevant curriculum to ensure that students can see themselves and their stories represented, and to give teachers the tools and training they need to provide these meaningful experiences. “I appreciate that we promote deep relationship building between teachers and students through mentoring so that all students can be seen and heard for exactly who they are and learn habits like agency, resilience, and sense of belonging,” says Krista Purnell. 

We encourage you to join us in commemorating Juneteenth by having conversations with your colleagues and friends about the role we, as educators, can play in creating a stronger, more equitable educational experience for our children. 
To learn more about the history of this important date, please click here.

About the author

The Black Educating Resource Group
The Black Educating Resource Group (BERG) is composed of members of our Black Gradient Learning community. Members of this group bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, including 30+ years in education, business, leadership, and more. We use our voices to informatively and purposefully amplify cultural awareness.