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Mendo Lake Family Life

Juneteenth Lessons

By Rebecca Hastings

The holiday popped up on the calendar almost as suddenly as my kids asked what it was. I had a mom moment when I realized I had two choices: I could choose to dismiss the question and move on or I could admit that I didn’t know and suggest we find out more. I must have gotten a good night’s sleep because finding out more seemed like the best option.

It can be hard when kids ask about something that we don’t know a lot about. The good news is that it’s the perfect way to connect and learn about something together. Try these ideas to help your family understand and recognize the importance of Juneteenth.

What is Juneteenth and Why Does It Matter? Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of enslaved African Americans in the United States. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves on January 1, 1863, it took more than two years for the decree to free slaves in the Confederate state of Texas.

“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.” (Smithsonian)

Juneteenth became a holiday the following year. While Juneteenth was just added as a federal holiday in 2021, it is considered the oldest African American holiday in the U.S. The name Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and nineteenth.

This holiday offers opportunities to consider what freedom looks like in our world. We can use Juneteenth as a way to look back at how far we’ve come and look forward to continuing the work of ensuring freedom for generations to come. 

How Do We Celebrate? The most important way you can celebrate this holiday, regardless of your race, is by showing honor and respect. Learning about black culture, supporting black organizations, and fostering an atmosphere of learning are the best places to start. 

Begin with Books This is always a great place for families to start learning more together. It provides a culturally- and age-appropriate way for everyone to learn more. Start with books such as: Juneteenth by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson and Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper.

Beyond the holiday itself, choose books that highlight the black experience and black culture to help your family better understand what the celebration represents. Even exploring President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation speech and music such as freedom songs will create a more vivid understanding for kids.

Have a Red Cookout Celebrating outdoors represents freedom. The key to the foods you choose may be to step outside of your comfort zone. Red foods like watermelon, red velvet cake, strawberry pie, and even hot sauce on Juneteenth often symbolize resilience and strength, while foods like brisket, beans, and bread round out the celebration menu. This is a great way to have fun with everything from meat to spicy tea!

Show Support Juneteenth serves as an important reminder of our nation’s history. Supporting black-owned organizations and businesses is a wonderful way to continue the work that started so many years ago. Whether you shop in a local black-owned business or send a donation online, this type of support is a tangible way to link arms for the prosperity and freedom Juneteenth represents. 

Say It Wish black friends and family a Happy Juneteenth as you celebrate and recognize the holiday. This simple phrase goes a long way in fostering respect. “The easiest way to wish someone a Happy Juneteenth is by messaging them and wishing them a fulfilled day. Similar to Black History Month, and other important anniversaries to Black Americans, it is important to acknowledge it as an American holiday, even if you do not celebrate it.” (Logan)

Keep Working The best way we can all work to celebrate Juneteenth is to keep doing the work needed for racial freedom in the U.S. and beyond. Have honest and respectful conversations about racial issues (even when it feels difficult), seek to learn more about races other than your own, and be part of a solution of healing and hope as we move forward. 

Rebecca is a published author and former teacher passionate about authenticity, faith, and family. In real life, she can often be found typing words, driving her kids places, or wherever there is chocolate. Connect with her at and on Instagram.