Webster Ghana Celebrates Juneteenth with Virtual Discussion 'The Struggle for Freedom'
June 22, 2020
June 19, familiarly known as Juneteenth, marks the end of slavery in the United States, and Webster University Ghana students, faculty and staff commemorated the holiday with a campus discussion entitled "Juneteenth: The Struggle for Freedom: Connecting the Past to the Black Lives Matter Movement." Diversity and inclusion are at the core of the university values, and with Webster Ghana being the only international campus in Africa, Ghana is directly linked to the history of slavery and colonization given the tragic past of the trans-Atlantic slave trade which occurred along the shores of West Africa.
Campus Director Christa Sanders-Bobtoya opened the discussion acknowledging the importance of Juneteenth but also questioning whether or not people were really free today amidst the unjust killings of Black men and women – over decades – such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Gardner, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo.
“We pay respect to all Black people who have tragically lost their lives due to police brutality," Sanders said. "Today is indeed a day of reflection as well as a celebration of the resilience of Black people and an anticipation of a brighter future for all.” She urged students and all present to be proactive, united and get involved in the fight for justice and the end of racism worldwide.
The faculty lead for the event, Mjiba Frehiwot, adjunct faculty for Webster Ghana’s Africana Studies and GCP courses, presented a brief history of slavery and overview of the civil rights era, laying the foundation on how to connect the past to the present. She also explained the connections between Africans and Africans in the Diaspora. “Ultimately everything that happens to Black people everywhere in the world should be of major importance to African people on the African continent as well," said Frehiwot. "It is not ‘their’ problem. It is all of ‘our problem.’” Frehiwot urged students to begin to organize for the liberation of Africa and African people globally.
Webster’s Chief Diversity Officer Vincent C. Flewellen joined the discussion with the university’s response to institutional racism and the recent murder of George Floyd. He reiterated the University’s history of supporting marginalized communities, its commitment to diversity and inclusion and also unequivocally stated the university’s support of Black lives. Flewellen added that Webster University has publicly shared and reaffirmed this continued commitment for racial equality and justice for all Black people in the university community and beyond, both online and by raising prominently placed Black Lives Matter banners on the main campus in St. Louis.
The presentations were followed by an informative discussion among students, staff and faculty with questions focused on women’s contributions to the Black Lives Matters movement, changing economic disparities, practical ways of truly breaking the cycle of racism and how to make sustainable change. Frehiwot pointed out that in order to truly break the cycle of racism, it is important to get to the root of the problem, which is capitalism and the commodification of Black people and culture. According to her, what Africa needs is Pan-Africanism since the unification of African countries is an integral part of the journey towards fighting racial injustice and gaining absolute freedom for Black people across the globe.
Flewellen shared that there needs to be honest and open conversations about racism in order to begin the reconciliation process. He also added that Black people all across the globe need to patronize and support Black-owned businesses, and that as a university we need to begin to critically examine who we do business with and how we can also invest in Black-owned businesses in order to increase their viability.
The Students Affairs Coordinator Adelina Marty closed the event by emphasizing the importance of education and understanding the history of slavery and the civil rights era. She highlighted the main takeaways from the discussion which were: the need for organizing locally and connecting across the globe; supporting Black-owned businesses; being true Pan-Africanists; and being open to learning about each other’s history and experience.
The discussion ended with all students, staff and presenters reaffirming their stance that all Black Lives Matter. The much-needed conversation was engaging and a wonderful opportunity for Webster Ghana students, staff, and faculty to exchange ideas. The campus looks forward to further discussions on this very important topic with the public in the near future.