Symposium Recap of “Juneteenth Celebrates Freedom!”
2023 Juneteenth Symposium
Published: August 22, 2023 by Eori Tokunaga
As part of the national celebration of Juneteenth 2023, the San José State University iSchool hosted its second annual symposium on June 20, 2023, titled “Juneteenth Celebrates Freedom!” After a brief introduction, Dr. Anthony Chow passed the microphone over to professional storyteller, consultant, and writer Binnie Tate Wilkin who served as the keynote speaker for last year’s symposium.
As an opening exercise, Wilkin invited attendees to participate in a “Virtual Heritage Handshake.”
“We would like you to share the name of an African American person, because that is what Juneteenth is all about. It’s about the many miles that we’ve traveled to freedom, and some of those miles included small steps that made a strong impact in our lives.” – Binnie Tate Wilkin
Co-keynote speaker and poet Vogue M. Robinson also invited participants to describe what they think about when they hear the word “freedom.” Some examples provided by participants through the Zoom chat are described below:
- “Freedom feels like safety and all my comings and goings.”
- “Freedom is loving my blackness; being liberated from seeing myself through the eyes of society’s narratives about black people.”
- “Freedom feels like choice.”
- “Freedom smells like fresh air.”
Robinson then began to read several poems from her extensive repertoire, the first of which was called “Juneteenth 2021” which began with an epigraph from her friend’s poem. Her second poem was crafted in response to reading a book by Tupac Shakur called, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” which she first encountered during middle school.
After reading her poetry, Robinson talked about her experiences growing up as a poet and her relationship with libraries:
“I couldn’t necessarily find books by black authors unless it was in the ‘Urban Books’ section. So I didn’t find black poets until somebody handed it to me…History and historical exclusion calls for specific celebrations which is why we have Juneteenth, February is Black History Month, right now [June] we’re in Pride Month and they are necessary. We had to create things of our own and also celebrate people who have been historically suppressed.” – Vogue M. Robinson
Following the keynote speakers, Dr. Chow introduced the student response panel composed of MLIS students Imani Singleton and Tina Fontenot. Singleton talked about her experiences growing up in Southern California with only one black substitute teacher throughout her years of education. Fontenot touched on her experiences about Juneteenth, growing up in Santa Clara County, and expressed similar sentiments to Singleton about black representation and black history.
Afterward, the symposium moved into a Q&A session before the event was concluded.
Below are some best practices as provided by the speakers during the symposium:
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) needs to be put into action. It’s not enough to just talk about it, and that is especially true for institutions.
- Preserving history is important, but it’s even more important to ensure that we’re not just looking at history through one lens.
- Find a mentor that you can go to, but also seek out ways that you can be a mentor for the next generation of LIS professionals.
- As libraries face increasing challenges with collections and DEI efforts, familiarize yourself with your organization’s policies.
- Start to build relationships with the people around you, because that’s how we, as LIS professionals, become stronger and more connected.
“I want y’all to think about inclusion when you’re creating these displays [in libraries], when you’re giving presentations is that question of asking yourself, ‘Who’s represented in my presentation of history? Who’s missing? Why are they missing and who can I add?’ And just to think about how it would feel if you never saw books written by people of color, people who look like you, except for that designated celebratory month. Their designated corner of space. And does that make us feel less than or other when we’re only showing up in these corners?” – Vogue M. Robinson
To watch the full symposium, click here.
To view the transcript via DOCX, click here.
To view the transcript via PDF, click here