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Juneteenth: With Learning, We Strengthen Our Community

Over the last couple of days, Manatee Community Foundation has been proud to support the Juneteenth Reading Conference and Juneteenth Community Festival, held at United Community Centers and created by Rosalyn Education and Enrichment Services (RECESS), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded by Dr. Sharon Jefferson.

Juneteenth first became a federal holiday last year, but many have long celebrated its importance. Others have learned more about it in recent years.

From the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture:

“Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas.”

This significant event in American history is also part of our community’s story.

We first met Dr. Sharon Jefferson at Manatee Community Foundation near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when she approached us with a grant proposal to support struggling virtual learners. A history teacher and community leader committed to helping all children succeed, Dr. Jefferson knew that the e-learning environment was going to leave some children even more behind. We were delighted to support her work helping these students make gains.

Vincent Taylor entertains kids about reading
Vincent Taylor, author of the “Cornbread” children’s book series, provides an educational and participatory discussion at the Juneteenth Reading Festival on June 17 at United Community Centers

As our relationship grew, we learned about Dr. Jefferson’s work facilitating greater learning about cultural competency in the classroom, in the workplace, in Manatee County. By providing relevant examples and illustrations featuring those who look like and have a common story with the learner, she said, we can make greater gains.

Equipped with a family history of community leadership, knowledge about local and national history, deep commitment to education, and a reservoir of patience, Dr. Jefferson has helped many of us advance in our understanding and ability to be effective. She does so in a way that is consistent with any good teacher–there is no judgement and conversations are open and honest, leading to a dialogue that serves a higher purpose.

A few things we are especially grateful to be able to state, ask and discover in our relationship with RECESS:

  • “We didn’t know this about our local/national history.”
  • “Can you share more about why/how cultural competency makes a difference in the classroom?”
  • “What can we do differently to be more inclusive, more supportive of all communities in Manatee County?”

At the Juneteenth Reading Conference, we watched Vincent Taylor, the author of “Cornbread” children’s book series, engage youth of various ages in dance, song, and active participation as they talked about idioms, context clues and other standards in reading. It was hard not to dance in your seat watching!

Saturday’s Juneteenth Community Event certainly didn’t spare the heat, but even with the temperatures climbing, businesses, nonprofits, representatives from city and county government, and citizens showed up to learn and celebrate together. The display of unity was something to be proud of.

Manatee Community Foundation is an organization that values learning to provide more participation and inclusivity in philanthropy–ultimately to be part of creating more success. Thanks to Dr. Jefferson and others like her, we can continue doing what we do through strengthened partnerships and better outcomes.