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What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Drummers, San Francisco Juneteenth 2017
Flickr user vhines200
Creative Commons
Drummers, San Francisco Juneteenth 2017

In 2021, President Biden made Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday. While the day has been celebrated by Black communities since the end of the Civil War, Biden’s decision brought greater recognition. But is a day off enough? For this week's Question of the Bay, we asked locals in downtown San Francisco what the holiday means to them.

Legal assistant Katanya Brooks took the day off as an opportunity to educate her kids, but she has doubts that the federal recognition means much:

"I think more people don't know what it is and are excited to have the day off. So, if more people would talk about it, and we had more things going on, I think more people would be more aware. But I notice not just African-Americans didn't know about it, but a lot of other races as well."

Student Jack Labadia did know about Juneteenth before it was a federal holiday, but for him it was just another Wednesday.

"So some of my friends got off, but I'm not really doing anything this summer, I'm just traveling around. It doesn't have any deep meaning to me, but I understand that for other people it certainly does."

Sophie Leafson feels a little differently. When the non-profit she works for exchanged Memorial Day for Juneteenth as a day off, she took that as an opportunity to turn inward.

"I think that it can be taken — and often is taken — as, 'Look at us we did so good! Like, we've cured slavery. Nothing matters anymore. Everything's happy.' And that's just, like, completely not the point.

Her colleague, Kayden Flesicher agrees the holiday offers an opportunity to reflect on the deeper history of emancipation.
"And so, people are finally figuring that out and I'm really proud of that because history in general is so misportrayed, especially when it comes to heinous acts of, like, inhumane suffering. That it’s finally getting the spotlight it deserves and people are learning what actually happens, that makes me happy."

And when I asked if he found the time to partake in some of the lighter festivities:

"Kinda! I tuned in to the Kendrick Lamar Juneteenth concert."

For security person Eric Witter, the holiday has been a long time coming.

"They finally made it a holiday. That's the day they freed them, or supposedly freed them because I still don't think we are free. But, that’s another story."

Even so, he didn’t get the day off.

"But it’s time and a half. Once they make them a holiday, they still make you work, they just pay you a little extra."

Afton Okwu is a rising senior at UC Berkeley and the deputy Arts and Entertainment Editor at the Daily Californian. If she isn't writing about culture, she can be found listening to Stevie Wonder in the kitchen.