Juneteenth celebrates freedom, inspires action

The sweet sound of jazz music and the alluring aroma of soul food permeated the air in front of the Wells Fargo Sports Complex Wednesday. The occasion? UAA celebrated the national holiday, Juneteenth, commemorating the abolition of slavery nearly 150 years ago.

Student Activities, Student Life and Leadership and AHAINA cooperated to pull the event together under the direction of Dewain Lee, dean of students and associate vice chancellor for student development.

Juneteenth has been an annual tradition at UAA for nine years. Students, staff, faculty, and community members were all invited to come out and enjoy the sunshine and celebrate.

The festivities featured over 12 different dishes including catfish, sausage jambalaya, red beans and rice, corn fritters and pecan pie.

“I just had to try a little bit of everything,” Amanda Reece, an accounting sophomore, laughed as she carefully carried her plate to a table. “Everyone should splurge on good eats every once in a while.”

The music, provided by Robert Arms’ band, combined a mix of saxophone, trumpet, keyboards, bass and drums to create smooth jazz beats. Patrons swayed and danced to the rhythm.

Many patrons didn’t even realize what the Juneteenth celebration was really about and came primarily for the free food. Amidst the grub, laughter, sunshine and music, it all appeared as one big outdoor barbecue.

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“As a college student, I will go where the free food calls. I don’t know all that much about the Juneteenth celebration, but I do respect it,” said biological sciences junior Nick Wells.

However, it was all put into perspective when Dottie Ochoa, a student activities programming team member, announced the event’s motivational speaker. The guest of honor was Dennis Rahiim Watson, the CEO of the Center for Black Student Achievement and chairman of the National Youth & Gang Violence Task Force.

Watson has earned over 250 awards for his work with black youth all across the nation and has received praise from both President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton. He kicked off his speech by having fun with the crowd. He had them help complete his sentences and even had a little James Brown thrown in. But then he got serious, discussing his life and how he was kicked out of high school over 37 times, and overcame the odds to be where he is today. He now speaks at universities across the country and motivates others to follow his footsteps and beat their odds, just as their ancestors did before.

“We all are connected in some way, either through music or through culture through communication through all of the stuff we go through,” Watson said to the crowd. “It was no joke back in the day to be a slave, and so for those of us who are children and our ancestors were slaves, we take this opportunity to make our contribution.”

While the day is about celebration it is also about remembrance — remembrance of the day when the United States changed so drastically that it dawned a new age in itself. It was an age of acceptance, diversity and partnership to try to create a better world.

“What better way to celebrate the diversity and the growth of this great nation than Juneteenth. Let’s give that a round of applause,” Watson said, and the crowd erupted in applause. “Thank you, UAA, for being one of the few universities this day who is celebrating this occasion.”