Lakeland holds inaugural Juneteenth celebration, dedicates Black Lives Matter Plaza
Lakeland students and employees gathered Friday morning outside the Younger Family Campus to celebrate Juneteenth and dedicate a new space on campus to inspire Lakeland’s commitment to peace, equity and justice.
LU Vice President for Campus Life David Simon, Jr., who organized Friday’s event, said Juneteenth will become an annual Lakeland summer celebration, and LU plans to expand the event to include Lakeland alumni beginning next June.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the U.S. Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863.
Lakeland President David Black announced at the celebration that, as of today, the space located on the south lawn of the Younger Family Campus Center will be designated The Black Lives Matter Plaza for Peace, Equity & Justice.
The plaza will be a reminder of Lakeland’s quest for social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. It will be used as a space where the Lakeland family to gather to celebrate our diversity and to keep having important conversations. It is one of the most used entrances on campus, an area that will become busier when Lakeland’s two new residence halls are completed in the early 2020s.
Leaders from Lakeland’s Black Student Union and Beta Sigma Omega fraternity shared statements as part of the celebration. We’re sharing them here in full:
BSU President Jasmine Smith: “The creation of a plaza dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement is an advancement towards the right direction. While some people may be grateful for this dedication, I know others may not. You have to first remember this journey we are on isn’t a walk in the park. There are steps to this process and obstacles we must overcome. In order to receive the change you want, you have to advocate, let your voices be heard and initiate it. This plaza is our foundation!
“What’s next is up to you. Just because we have a dedicated place for a movement that supports and represents Black people doesn’t mean our work stops here. Our voices are being heard! Let’s not settle for less than what we deserve; that is why this plaza is in place. It’s a ‘memento mori’ of the people we’ve lost and our history. This plaza is a reminder of our past, the work we need to continue to do and the work that is being done. Let’s keep hope and peace in our hearts and souls and continue to fight. Let’s remember who and what we are fighting for. Always keep your whys on the frontline as it will guide you. Let’s make change and let’s change history!”
Beta members Dajarrie Tomlinson and Drew Yarbrough on behalf of BSO President Brice Kensey: “The Black Lives Matter plaza is one of many steps in creating change. The Plaza is a symbol of hope for our future to become brighter. This will be a place to unify the diverse, gain a level of understanding and be a safe place to step out of your comfort zone. Let’s continue to stand together to fight for justice and equality so that our voices don’t become irrelevant, but push for racial discrimination to become obsolete.
“Today we honor Juneteenth and the first of many more here at Lakeland. I want to thank President Black and Vice President David Simon for allowing the student voices be heard in these depressing times for our Black population here at Lakeland and all over the world. I want to acknowledge that Juneteenth allowed us to be free, but yet we are still being haunted. We are free, but still being taken away from our families. We are free, but are still targets for the police.
“I want you to know that being African-American can be life threatening such as being killed for eating Skittles with a hoodie on, being a kid playing in the park, selling CDs, jogging, sleeping peacefully in bed ... so don’t tell us the police will leave you alone if we don’t do illegal stuff. Once again, we are strange fruit hanging from the trees. We are at the mercy of the white man, but it is now that we use our platform to change that narrative.
We, the Lakeland community – students and faculty – are gifted with the tools today necessary to put a stop to racism. We stand here today among all races united as one with the power to create change.
As we celebrate the first annual Juneteenth and the great state of Texas, I want to take a second to remember all those who suffered and sacrificed everything for us to be here today starting with the most high. Let’s make a change for our future! I love you all, and may God bless!”
Black presented the students with two gifts. He gave BSU a copy of The 1619 Project, an ongoing project developed by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the U.S. and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia.
Black gave the Betas a copy of the book “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein, which argues that laws and policy decisions passed by local, state and federal governments promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.
Black compared racism to the Coronavirus, noting that it leads to infection, isolation and persecution. “Racism, like the virus, kills some people,” Black said. “It chokes them to death, and the last words they say are, ‘I can’t breathe.’ A crushed throat has no voice … oh, but it does! This place will be a voice. The Black Lives Matter Plaza will forever signify that at Lakeland the voice is not just alive, it’s invited and welcome.”
Following a short program, those assembled enjoyed a lunch of Southern-style food from Art’s BBQ in Sheboygan.
Lakeland has pledged to listen, learn and take action to improve. A recent Zoom meeting was initiated by students who have taken up their own cause for justice at Lakeland. Lakeland thanks these students for their leadership by asking questions and advising on how LU can improve: Elijah Santiago, Brice Kensey, Jasmine Smith, Essence Blade, Jean Louis, Kevo Holbrook, Tyra Herbert, Jaylen Rido, William Young, Jequan Pegeese, Skylar Garza, Chassity Bradford, Chanel Bradford and Dajarrie Tomlinson. More conversations will continue.
Lakeland also announced Friday several action steps, some in progress and some beginning when classes start this fall:
The goal of all this work is constantly improving the Lakeland experience for all members of the Lakeland family. We welcome your ideas, and invite you to submit them via email to Campus Chaplain Julie A. Mavity Maddalena.