UVU Honors Black Heritage and Refugees During Juneteenth and World Refugee Day Celebration

Members of campus and the community gathered on UVU campus yesterday to celebrate National Juneteenth Independence Day (Juneteenth). Additionally, celebrations were held in honor of World Refugee Day, an international holiday held on June 20, honoring refugees around the world.


On the morning of June 19, 1865, over 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the then two-and-a-half-year-old Emancipation Proclamation in Texas — a state yet to officially emancipate slaves. Union Major General Gordon Granger and his men marched throughout the city, formally proclaiming the demise of institutionalized slavery.

In honor of that historical event, Utah Valley University celebrated Juneteenth National Independence Day on Thursday, June 16. Members of the campus and surrounding communities joined to remember and pay tribute to those who were subjected to slavery and celebrate their emancipation. Additionally, celebrations were held in honor of World Refugee Day, an international holiday held on June 20, honoring refugees around the world.

“We’re always looking for ways to connect,” UVU African Diaspora Initiative Director Jerome Currelley said. “Our combining Juneteenth and World Refugee Day celebrations were part of an obvious partnership between us at UVU’s Multicultural Student Services. We came together to collaborate and make tonight bigger.”

The African Diaspora Initiative and Multicultural Student Services hosted the event, which featured speakers, poetry, music, and dancing. Multicultural Student Services coordinator David Ssejenja spoke on the need for individuals and communities to help people displaced from their home countries.

“A thousand years from now, it won't matter what kind of car we drove. It won't matter what house we lived in or how much money we had on our account,” Ssejenja said. “But what will matter then will be the refugees that we touched, those people in marginalized communities that we don't see, some with invisible wounds within their hearts.

“These people live amongst us for us to touch, to lift, to share, and to be the bearer of hope for them as we strive to lift and to share. Humanitarian service to the refugees is the rent that we pay for living in such a beautiful world.”

UVU Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer DaSheek Akwenye spoke on the importance of Juneteenth as a nation and a community.

“At Utah Valley University, we will continue to find ways to promote and provide accessible and equitable educational opportunities, no matter the person's race, religion, or sexual orientation,” Akwenye said. “As a people, let's not delay freedom to receive an education. Let's not delay our freedom to unite with each other regardless of [our backgrounds]. Let's not delay the freedom to promote love, respect, and compassion for one another. Let's seize every opportunity [we] get to choose good, to be good, and, most importantly, [to] do good on those that come before us.”

UVU Professor and Black Academic Excellence Award recipient Dianne McAdams-Jones also focused her remarks on the importance of helping others and looking to the future as we celebrate Juneteenth.

“I'm here as the face of the African American community to say, let's always remember that slavery did happen,” McAdams-Jones said. “We've been freed, but the fight is not over, and we must continue to look ahead and remember that when you forget your past, you're most likely doomed to repeat it.”

Ngoma y'Africa, a non-profit performing group celebrating African music and dance, closed the event with a series of dance numbers ranging from traditional African folk dance to modern-day Afro-pop. Members of the audience were encouraged to come up and dance with the company.

“We have a saying in Africa,” Ngoma y'Africa Founder and President Yvonne B. Nsabimana said. “If you can walk, you can dance.”

To learn more about UVU Multicultural Services and The African Diaspora Initiative, visit:



Juneteenth colors

The lights of the UCCU Center changed to the colors of the Pan-African flag on June 16 (Emily Munoz).

Ngoma Y'Africa dancers

Audience members danced at the UVU Juneteenth and World Refugee Day Celebration (Emily Munoz).