On June 17th, 2021, Juneteenth National Independence Day was signed into law as America’s 11th federal holiday. The holiday commemorates June 19th, 1865, when enslaved people living in Galveston, Texas finally heard that their freedom had been restored, a full two-and-a-half years after the original Emancipation Proclamation.

But as the original Juneteenth demonstrates, it often takes more than a legal declaration to create true change.  That’s why Shasta College’s Umoja program exists, according to Jerry Brown, the College’s Interim Director of Community Alliance, who refers to the program as a continuation of Juneteenth’s legacy of freedom.  

Umoja means “unity” in Swahili.  The program, open to all students, was specifically developed to improve the success of Black students by increasing cultural understanding and offering counseling, tutoring, and other supports designed to help students successfully graduate and transfer into University of California schools, well prepared for their futures.  Students, speaking about the program, say Umoja provides the sense of community and inclusion that is foundational to their emotional, social and academic success.

Jerry Brown, Shasta College’s Interim Director of Community Alliance, Screenshot

Discussing Juneteenth, Brown called the new holiday “an important day representing the true end of slavery,” but said the day still lacks needed recognition, especially in Shasta County.

“Lots of people don’t know about this history,” Brown said, “Juneteenth has the potential to be like MLK day. In the future, the community might (use Juneteenth as an opportunity to) march to the courthouse and gather.”  

He says he hopes future community meetings may help Shasta County learn about and embrace the rich history of Juneteenth and its importance to America.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who represents California’s 1st District including Shasta County, was one of only fourteen House Republicans to vote Wednesday against making Juneteenth a federal holiday. LaMalfa’s office has not yet issued an official press release explaining LaMalfa’s vote.  

Joseph Johnston and Annelise Pierce co-wrote this story. Johnston is a local high school student concurrently enrolled at Shasta College. He interviewed Jerry Brown, provided research, and wrote a draft of this article on assignment as a student reporter for Shasta Scout. Do you know a student who would like to write for Shasta Scout?  Contact us! We prioritize students from communities that have been historically underrepresented in media including those from the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and women.

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