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‘An American celebration’: Weber State marks Juneteenth amid major changes to diversity approach

By Rob Nielsen - | Jun 20, 2024

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

Attendees dance and enjoy Weber State University's Juneteenth celebration Wednesday, June 19, 2024.

OGDEN -- Weber State University had a special celebration for Juneteenth as the school looks to how it will handle matters of diversity in the future.

Organized by WSU's Black Cultural Center, Wednesday's celebration of the Juneteenth National Independence Day included food, dancing, games, music and a handful of speeches from university officials, both past and present.

Among the speakers was Joel Berrien, WSU's belonging and inclusive programs manager.

"How do we make sure that Juneteenth becomes more than a moment, more than a monument, and instead becomes a call to action," he said, posing a question to the crowd of dozens gathered. "I hope that we can embrace a shared meaning that encourages each of us to take meaningful action to improve the lives and experiences of others, to embrace differences and celebrate diversity, to welcome others to our community, to advocate for others and to educate ourselves about Juneteenth while actively seeking out opportunities to learn about other cultures."

Berrien said it's imperative that citizens learn about the country's past and how to deal with it properly going forward.

"I would hope that each of us should feel some sense of obligation to learn about the truth of America's history," he said. "We must also recommit ourselves to becoming better citizens and to be invested in doing the difficult and painful work of racial reconciliation as required for all of us."

Wednesday's Juneteenth celebration comes at a time of major transition at Weber State. With the passage of legislation targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programming, several offices meant to serve minority students at WSU are set to close July 1. This includes the Black Cultural Center, which hosted Wednesday's festivities. The employees of these departments will be reconstituted into the new Student Success Center.

Brandon Flores, WSU's executive director for belonging, assured the audience that WSU will still hold commemorative celebrations such as for Juneteenth.

"Things like this will definitely continue through our Student Success Center initiatives," he said. "It's so important to create community and belonging for students in the name of retention and student success."

He said the university will continue to serve its students to the best of its abilities.

"We can change names, titles and even take away some programs, but what they're not going to be able to change is how we show up for our students on a one-on-one basis," he said. "They're not going to be able to change how we impact lives, influence and inspire those who we come across in our day-to-day interactions."

Also speaking Wednesday was retired WSU professor Forrest Crawford, who said people should remember what brought Juneteenth about in the first place.

"Keep in mind that Juneteenth didn't come about just because people sat down at a table and finally came up with the name," he said. "It came about as the consequence of an evolving history in the establishment of the early Americas."

Crawford added that the celebration of Juneteenth has become a day for the whole nation.

"This is not just an African American community celebration, this is an American celebration," he said.

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