Juneteenth: Celebrating History While Recognizing the Continued Call for Action

Jun 16 8:48am | Angie Murad | @muradangie

Article written by: Veronica Smith, MHA- Mayo Clinic Patient Navigator serving Patients of African Descent

Juneteenth, or June 19th, commemorates the official end of slavery in America. This significant event has been celebrated by African Americans and the Black community for many generations, however it was not until 2021 that it was declared a federal holiday. Juneteenth National Independence Day is the 1st federal holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Achieving federal recognition is a reminder that the work our ancestors have done, and our continued work is not in vain - though, we must keep the momentum.

“The land of the free …” is the last line of our country’s national anthem. On June 19th, 1865, slaves in the confederate states finally received notification that they were “free.” This came two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It was just the beginning of our ancestors finding their way in a society that was not created for people of color to thrive. Many African Americans looked forward to creating families, getting an education, and celebrating their faith which had carried them through the darkest days. Blood, sweat, and many tears were shed in the fight for our basic human rights and freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation was not enough to shift the paradigm of deeply rooted slavery. It was followed by the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to protect the rights of African Americans. Our fight is not over. Though not as overt as slavery, systemic racism continues to plague our society.

Racial disparities in healthcare have a profound impact on underrepresented populations receiving timely access to healthcare. Regular screenings, early detection, and timely treatment are vital in achieving optimal health outcomes in cancer care.

According to the American Cancer Society African Americans are:

  • More likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage disease, which is usually more costly and difficult to treat
  • More likely to experience delays in treatment
  • Less likely to receive recommended treatment

This can be attributed to many factors including access, socioeconomic conditions, and historical mistrust in the healthcare system within the African American communities. My role as a Patient Navigator serving those of African Descent has placed me in a position to begin building those trusting

relationships. I connect with patients as early as possible in their journey to help them navigate the system and empower them to self-advocate. Each patient comes with unique needs, and it is important to meet them where they are. Mayo Clinic values diversity and inclusion of all patients. However, we understand there is more work to be done in bridging the gap and creating trust within the African American communities. The first step for change is to acknowledge there is a problem.

On June 19th, we pay homage to our ancestors for their unwavering dedication and sacrifices made in fighting for the freedom of African Americans. For me, Juneteenth is a day of reflection, hope, and a reminder that there is still more work to be done. The key is to move forward together in solidarity by fighting against systemic racism for equity and inclusion for all individuals.

“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible—and there is still so much work to do.” —Barack Obama

Visit the following links to learn more:

  • The Importance of Juneteenth and How to Use Your Power to Take Action: NAACP
  • How to celebrate in the Workplace, Community, and Home: Juneteenth.com

Links to other Blogs on Mayo Clinic Connect:

Cancer Education Center Blog- Patient Navigation

Health Equity Research Blog

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Cancer Education blog.

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