School of Nursing

June 19, 2023

Juneteenth, Principles, and Striving

It is a fact of American history that we have a holiday — Juneteenth — celebrating the end of something that never should have begun, and something that remains as indelible evidence of a failure to fully deliver on the ideals put forth in the country’s founding documents.

That slavery ever became an accepted part of American life is a sad reminder of how we must always be vigilant and fight against attempts to “other” those who are in some way different from the dominant group, whether by virtue of race, religion, culture, national origin, or any other trait.

That vigilance is particularly important in healthcare. Healthcare is a sensitive indicator of our national commitment to equity and antiracism. The pandemic laid bare the grim reality of a system in which there are vast disparities in who gets access to healthcare and the differential in outcomes that result.

Though on Juneteenth we acknowledge the liberation of Black and African Americans, the numbers say that we remain far from being a fair and equal society. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Black/African American and Hispanic people are twice as likely to be hospitalized and almost all racial and ethnic minorities fared worse as measured by infection rates, hospitals stays, and death rates. Black maternal health outcomes remain abysmal in a country that touts an equal pursuit of life and liberty for all.

Juneteenth is an invitation to center Black and African American voices, stories, and experiences in whatever space we exist in. For me and this school, this means urgently addressing healthcare disparities for Black and African American patients through the discipline of nursing and nursing research.

“We have simply got to make people aware that none of us are free until we’re all free, and we aren’t free yet. There’s so many disparities… if people would just get together and address these disparities, we’d be well on our way to being the greatest country in the world,” said Opal Lee. Lee is an American retired teacher, counselor, and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday. To many she is considered the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”

May this Juneteenth be a catalyst of that “constant and earnest striving” for liberation and restoration wherever we each hold power.