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Juneteenth Reflection

Posted by | Mary-Elizabeth Harper, Board of Directors Member

In honor of Juneteenth, Catholic Charities’ offices will be closed so that we may observe and celebrate the day of Black liberation in our country.  Executive Director Deacon Rick Birkel, Ph.D. invites us to reflect upon and acknowledge the significance of this day – a day that changed the trajectory of the lives of Blacks who were held as slaves in the United States. In observation of this day, the Catholic Charities family stands in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters in Oregon and all around the world, and we join them in their continued struggle to permanently dismantle the cruel systems of oppression that still exist today.


Catholic Charities Board Member Mary-Elizabeth Harper shares a beautiful, and touching Juneteenth reflection with us:


I want to tell you about Juneteenth in my life.

Throughout my childhood and years growing into an adult, my family celebrated Juneteenth as a very special time as we recalled our transition from slavery into freedom. My great grandparents were slaves, my grandfather was a sharecropper, and my father was one of the first of 14 children who was sent to Michigan from Tennessee to go to college.

My father’s struggles living with an older sister and her husband were turbulent as a Black despite being in a state that benefitted him with more acceptance than the southern states. He received his degree, was an outstanding athlete, married my mother (daughter of an indigenous father and granddaughter of a freed slave mother) and raised nine children.

Every Juneteenth was a large gathering of Blacks in our Midwest community at a public park or church parking lot where great traditional southern food was shared. But I remember mostly the stories of our enslaved ancestors were shared. Reminiscent stories of how many families migrated out of the south to more accepting places in the north, east and west were told; scriptures from the Bible read; and prayers offered to encourage and inspire us to keep moving forward. We always played games of softball, horseshoes and board games and listened to Black musicians & gospel music. My favorite game I learned to master was chess!

Each year the crowds grew, the unity of African Americans became solidified and the comfort of our history reigned in my heart. In Portland, I have relived my Juneteenth experiences with not only Blacks but also with Hispanics, whites, and other people of color. It makes me proud to honor our Emancipation but theoretically I am sad to witness the racism that continues and escalates in our society. I continue to pray for acceptance and appreciation of my Blackness in a country that was built by the sweat and tears of my ancestors.  Being Black in this country and worldwide MUST be prioritized in order for peace and love to reign.

I pray Juneteenth will have significance to whites to not only know what President Lincoln did in 1863 for my people theoretically but also to understand we are humans that should be accorded the same rights the Constitution of the United States accords ALL people. Sadly, this reality has not been given to us as evident over the years and especially recently. I’m praying each and every day for justice, peace and love throughout our country and the world.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my heartfelt feelings about Juneteenth. Bless you for honoring this important date.

-Mary-Elizabeth Harper