Growing up in Waco, Texas, Tait Brooks, assistant director of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), celebrated Juneteenth every year for as long as he can remember.
“My youngest memory from the Juneteenth parades in Waco was watching Black cowboys ride horses down our main street. That’s something you didn’t see just anywhere,” said Brooks.
In Waco, which is about a three and half hour’s drive from Galveston, Texas – the city where General Granger and his troops arrived on June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, to inform the last remaining enslaved people that they were free – Juneteenth festivities include step shows by Black fraternities, high school scholarship pageants and prominent speakers. In major cities across Texas, such as Dallas and Houston, Juneteenth festivities are massive week-long events and this year will feature 200-piece orchestras and prominent jazz and gospel singers.
However, outside of Texas, many people don’t know much about Juneteenth celebrations and have never had the opportunity to attend one. The first known celebrations of Juneteenth date back to the 1880s when it was known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. It was not only a day of celebration; it was a means to humanize the Black experience in Texas and abroad.
“Juneteenth means fun. it means laughter. It also means remembering the pain and the trauma our ancestors went through and a way to move forward,” said Brooks.
As a native Texan, Brooks, who co-leads FIU's 2022 Juneteenth Committee, wants to bring those traditional Juneteenth celebration components to the university.
FIU’s second annual Juneteenth celebration will take place June 11-18, with over 15 events, seminars and activities under the theme Celebrate, Educate, Heal. This year’s weeklong celebration will kick off with the inaugural Nova Star Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. on June 11 at the Wolfe University Center Auditorium at BBC. The pageant, named after the bursting nova star at the center of the Juneteenth flag, will highlight six student contestants who exemplify the Panther spirit and are also passionate about social justice issues. “These contestants represent FIU’s brightest. They are our Nova Stars,” added Brooks.
“There is a little bit of fun involved in pageantry, but the root of it all is fueled by bringing awareness of social justice concerns in our community and supporting college education,” said Brooks. Net proceeds from the pageant will provide scholarships for the pageant winners, fund study abroad opportunities for underrepresented minority students and provide housing stipends for graduate students. Brooks, who is spearheading the pageant, hopes that DEI and FIU can start a tradition of using pageantry and sponsorship to further student achievement and success. “We have contestants who have signed up for this experience, and I am hopeful that their friends, family members and community members will come out and support them and yell their names and cheer them on,” said Brooks.
Some other event highlights for FIU’s Juneteenth week include the Nova Star Networking Mixer for students to connect with employers (June 11 from 4-6 p.m.), the Black History 101 Mobile Museum (June 13 at BBC and June 14 at MMC, both days 10 a.m.-4 p.m.), a virtual Genealogy workshop (June 16 3–4:30 p.m.) and a BBC reunion event for former BBC faculty, students and staff (June 17 noon–2 p.m.). The week will culminate in the Freedom Day Celebration on Saturday, June 18, from 11- 4 p.m. at the Dotson Pavilion (MARC Building) at MMC. This free event is open to the public and will feature food trucks, performers, the Bacardi Lounge at the Frost Museum, artisans, vendors, a kids’ zone and more. Faculty and staff who register will receive $15 food vouchers, sponsored by FIU Foundation. Students will receive $10 vouchers sponsored by the Student Government Association. “Over 1,000 people attended last year’s Freedom Day event, so we are very excited to host it once again for our FIU and South Florida Community,” expressed Emmanuele Bowles, director of the Division of DEI. She further added, ”Our FIU community welcomed the weeklong celebration that allowed them to see themselves represented in our community events.”
A full calendar of events and registration information is available at go.fiu.edu/Juneteenth.