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From the Pitch - Juneteenth

By USL Contributors, 06/19/20, 9:30AM EDT

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A commemoration of Union army general Gordon Granger's reading of federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas in 1865 that proclaimed all slaves in the state were thereby free, Juneteenth has been an unofficial American holiday for more than 150 years. In a special edition of From the Pitch, players and coaches from around the USL Championship explain in their own words what the day – also known as Freedom Day – means to them.

What does Juneteenth mean to you?
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“For me, Juneteenth signifies a moment in American history when black people were no longer considered slaves. It is a holiday that marks the beginning of a quest for equality in the United States of America.”
Jermaine Fordah
Jermaine Fordah
El Paso Locomotive FC
“Juneteenth means freedom, acceptance, and progression. On that day in 1865, those that had been in slavery were finally declared to be free. Finally accepted as equals rather than seen as lesser in society. That’s a huge historical moment and although work still needs to be done, I see it as the first real step in the fight for change.”
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“To me, Juneteenth is a very important part of history, specifically African-American history, and just like many other moments it has been buried in general American and World History. While it was a great moment, it is always hard for me to understand how legislation was needed in order for people to see human beings as human beings – but nonetheless here we are.”
Ben Willis
Ben Willis
Rio Grande Valley FC
“Juneteenth to me means the United States moved one step closer to everyone in the country becoming truly free. I think such a big moment in history needs to be celebrated and used to educate others who may not know what Juneteenth truly means.”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“It’s a celebration of opportunity, of freedom and from an individual standpoint it’s allowed me to be a professional coach. It’s given me the opportunity to be one of the first in my family to go to college, to pursue dreams that myself, my family and others may not have had the chance to pursue.”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“Without the Union Army being in Texas and announcing that slaves were finally free, there is no telling how much longer slavery would go on to exist in the deep south. For it to be a two-year delay for slaves to find out that Lincoln announced the emancipation of slaves… who knows what else southern states would have done to delay the news getting to the black community.”
Dre Deas
Dre Deas
Hartford Athletic
“It is the day that commemorates African American's freedom from chains and slavery. It is a day where I rejoice and reflect on my ancestry.”
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
“As we hope Juneteenth serves as a celebration of freedom in the release from the bondage of slavery, it can also be a reminder of a horrific era in this nation’s history. It is still a painful reminder of what was a social norm and the other issues currently still ever-present today in this country for people of color.”
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“Although it is a reminder of a very dark time in American history, it highlights the strength and perseverance of those that fought for many of the things some of us take for granted today.”
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Rio Grande Valley FC
“It’s the day when slavery truly ended. The day where the first step to freedom and equality was taken.”
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“I look forward to seeing and contributing to change in America. It’s much needed. So, I guess I can say Juneteenth means continuous change to me.”
Do you remember when Juneteenth was first introduced to you?
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“I don’t remember when I was introduced to Juneteenth, but I am certain it wasn’t through school. Many important moments weren’t covered appropriately as part of my education. A lot of the knowledge I have on African-American history came from either my personal interests or other individuals.”
Dre Deas
Dre Deas
Hartford Athletic
“I was introduced to Juneteenth in elementary school, and it was always covered as part of my education from kindergarten through fifth grade. But once I attended public school, the curriculum did not cover Juneteenth or black history at all.”
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
“I do not particularly remember where it was introduced to me. If it was in school, I doubt there was substantial or sufficient content surrounding the topic.”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“I grew up in Seneca, South Carolina where Juneteenth was not used. In that, the history wasn’t really told. It wasn’t shown as a celebration.”
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“If it was presented to me in school, it was only as a date of significance for African Americans. It was only presented to me as a celebration through interactions with my friends and family.”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“I first found out about Juneteenth my junior year of high school in my U.S. History class. My teacher added the content in as extra information because it was not on the learning timeline for the curriculum. I personally believe that the education system failed us by not teaching us about this important event in American history.”
Jermaine Fordah
Jermaine Fordah
El Paso Locomotive FC
“Juneteenth was first introduced to me a couple years after I arrived in the U.S. through a conversation with a friend. I had never heard of it before then. Back in England, I was taught about the emancipation of the slaves but never knew it was an event celebrated to this day.”
Ben Willis
Ben Willis
Rio Grande Valley FC
“I don’t think it is covered enough in school. I believe such a big moment in history needs to be covered way more. By teaching kids in middle school and high school moments like Juneteenth, more young people will understand the meaning, see where the country is coming from and how far we still have to go.”
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Rio Grande Valley FC
“The way I think it can get better is by it being held up as an important date in American history alongside The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. President Lincoln declared all slaves to be free, but that wasn’t accomplished until two-and-a-half years later.”
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“Unfortunately, I feel like black history is not thoroughly taught in our education system, outside of the month of February.”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“Students learn more about how the country was so great and study the accomplishments that the country achieved to put ourselves as 'world leaders'. Teaching students about black history will help others understand how far we have come and what challenges we continue to face on a daily basis.”
Dre Deas
Dre Deas
Hartford Athletic
“It shouldn't be something that is just skimmed over – or worse, not even discussed – because there are still many essential topics that surround our nation and community."
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
“I personally believe that Black history, as is often taught in school, should not begin with slavery. African history goes back long before the transatlantic slave trade. Historically, Africans were more than just slaves, and this is rarely depicted through education. Visiting sites such as your local African American Museum could provide an extended insight into this history.”
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“Why wasn’t I taught this? I can’t tell you why. Maybe to control the narrative or perpetuate an unspoken agenda? Who knows. But in order to change, we must reform in our educational systems and school curriculums.”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“History is a very powerful thing, just like a club. The club shares its history because history is a part of the club, but it also allows those who come into the club to be inspired. It tells them this is who we are, and this is what we do.”
Have you previously celebrated Juneteenth?
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“I have been a part of Juneteenth celebration amongst friends and family, but it was never anything formal. Only as an adult, have I fully understood the significance and celebrated it with fellowship amongst family and friends.”
Dre Deas
Dre Deas
Hartford Athletic
“I have celebrated Juneteenth before, but it is not something that I've celebrated every year. Our celebrations started off with a church service followed by a family cookout. I have seen celebrations that consisted of parades through the city, but I haven't been able to attend one yet.”
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“No, I haven't, but I am very open to celebrating Juneteenth and I definitely have plans to do so in the future. I hope to start a family someday and I would really want my children to understand history as it pertains to them.”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“To be honest, no. That’s when Juneteenth was brought to my attention, I was actually embarrassed because I never really knew that it was a celebration.”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“I’ve never celebrated Juneteenth due to the fact that I was not aware of the occurrence until my junior year of high school, but Juneteenth is an event that is needs to be commemorated.”
Jermaine Fordah
Jermaine Fordah
El Paso Locomotive FC
“I feel there is already a heightened significance to Juneteenth, with current events unfolding as they have. I feel celebrating and growing more awareness of this day will only help people see that if we were able to come together once and achieve something as big as the emancipation. Then we can do even more this time to achieve equality.”
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
“I plan on celebrating Juneteenth by raising my children to understand its meaning, to view it as a celebration, and also as a testament to the greatness that they hold within as proud, Black citizens.”
Ben Willis
Ben Willis
Rio Grande Valley FC
“I have not celebrated in the past and it’s something I want to do every year in the future. I feel it is so important to celebrate slaves becoming free people.”
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Rio Grande Valley FC
“I have not previously celebrated Juneteenth, but I plan on using my platform to make it known to everyone that Juneteenth is a day where we should all recognize and reflect on the end of slavery and when the first step towards true freedom and equality was taken.‬‬”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“It should be a celebration. To be honest, that’s what has been eating at me lately is ‘why was it not shown as a celebration?’ It shows not only the freedom of slavery but shows those who, in humanity, had the idea to free those slaves and that should be a catalyst for conversation.”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“You don’t have to be black to honor or observe this historic event. You don’t even need to be American. You just need to believe in justice and dignity and equality. The more you educate yourself, the more you can help the black community, respond when we are treated unjustly, understand our frustration.”
Do you feel as if there will be heightened significance of Juneteenth against the current backdrop? And how do you think recognition of Juneteenth fits into the continued conversation?
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
“I think the current climate could create more awareness and recognition of Juneteenth. Now, as for where that fits into this continued conversation is tough to answer and is yet to be seen. I believe the awareness and voices we’ve heard on both sides of the current movement are important in drawing the curtains to expose notions, sentiments and systems that have been hidden or denied for years.”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“In today’s generation, more and more people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. We also have social media that connects millions of people around the world. A tremendous amount of people are sharing the importance of Juneteenth. People are understanding and relating to the frustration that is inside of Black Americans, a dissatisfaction just waiting for a time like this to finally be acknowledged.”
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
“As I hope a majority of society seeks justice and equality for all, I know there are still people in this world who just don’t share the same sentiment. Now these have all been brought to light, it is important that all people accept the issues exist, and that we recognize the nation’s dark history to positively move forward.”
Ben Willis
Ben Willis
Rio Grande Valley FC
“African-Americans are still not looked at as equal by many people in this country. It’s unacceptable and awful that African-American people are not able to live comfortably and safely as themselves.”
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“Juneteenth is the 'perfect opportunity' – if you will – to capitalize on the work that still needs to be done and the change that is still needed. There have certainly been strides, but recent events have shown that not much has really changed.”
Dre Deas
Dre Deas
Hartford Athletic
“I expect many people to come out not only to celebrate, but to protest and continue to voice that our country needs to change. I believe that the ideals Juneteenth stands for should be in our minds year-round instead of simply just in June, and the current social climate could be an important factor in bringing that change.”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“It’s very important as a backdrop as to what’s going on. I was talking to friends who are white, and we’re close, but they started reaching out to me to ask me about racism, about the young man shot in Brunswick and they asked about whether I’ve worn bright clothes or did certain things to make sure I wasn't seen as a threat. It was good to hear from them because not only were they concerned but I realized that we’d never had those conversations. Now we’re having them because of what has transpired, so some good is coming out of what we are all having to face and experience.”
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“This is another opportunity to learn about a moment in history that was very important to the growth of the country. However, it also sheds light on a dark past that many people have been able to ignore. Understanding from whence we come is vital to our progress moving forward.”
Jermaine Fordah
Jermaine Fordah
El Paso Locomotive FC
“I feel the best way to create a lasting positive change in the way Juneteenth is perceived would be to promote it more as a celebration. It marks a huge moment in American history and should be celebrated as such. Not just by black people because the slaves were freed, but by everyone because together people took up a cause bigger than any one man and decided they were going to make a difference and that was the day they succeeded.”
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Rio Grande Valley FC
“Juneteenth is the foundation of the process of ending racism, oppression and systematic injustice in the United States. I think that Juneteenth fits into the continued conversation because it’s the foundation to seeking total equality.”
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“It’s easy to understand that moment as a victory for African Americans in history. However, it was really a stepping-stone to a much larger end goal which we are still working to achieve today: love, respect, peace, fairness, freedom and justice. Recognizing Juneteenth as an instrumental part of world history will always be relevant until change is seen and something is done.”
What do you think is most important to creating lasting, positive change?
Tobi Adewole
Tobi Adewole
Saint Louis FC
“Regarding Juneteenth specifically, I think making it a national holiday is a nice way to implement change. As for the issues currently plaguing our country, those are deep-rooted. Foundational reform – from education reform, police reform, incarceration reform, policy reform, the list goes on and on – must happen.”
John Wilson
John Wilson
Charleston Battery
“We need to sometimes just turn off the TV and listen, discuss, share stories, and talk because we can gain valuable information about the history of those who have been oppressed by sometimes just talking to your neighbor. Sometimes those conversations are difficult, but just sitting in your locker room, with your neighbor or your co-worker is offering an outlet to someone that can probably share their story and their struggle, their examples of being racially profiled or how systematic racism has affected not only themselves but their family.”
Ben Willis
Ben Willis
Rio Grande Valley FC
“By having the tough conversations with other people and not staying silent about the issues ruining our country, we can begin to move forward in the fight for equality and help positive change occur. Without conversations like this, no change will happen.”
Christian Ibeagha
Christian Ibeagha
OKC Energy FC
"In order to create lasting, positive change in this country, we have to recognize and acknowledge that the nation has a dark past, and that past still has effects and ramifications to this present day for people of color. If this issue remains purely black and white, there will always be a divide and as a result, a lack of recognition of the system as it is. The positive way forward is not Black versus White, it is all people versus injustice!”
Nathan Harriel
Nathan Harriel
Philadelphia Union II
“I don’t want to go into a white neighborhood and be asked if I belong there or if I know anyone that lives there. I don’t want to be in fear of my life when the police stop me. Without the white community understanding our history and challenges, we will never create change and will continue to live in a racist country even though we are 'all created equal'”
Dre Deas
Dre Deas
Hartford Athletic
“Juneteenth should be viewed as a day of pride and joy. It should serve as a pillar of hope for the oppressed in this country. Bringing the injustices of the past into the mainstream is an important way to increase the dialogue around the important social issues.”
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Juan Carlos Obregon Jr
Rio Grande Valley FC
“It simply comes down to having common sense, common courtesy and treating others the same way you would like to be treated. We must spread love, positivity and peace to one another because we are all equal brothers and sisters in God’s eyes.”
Jermaine Fordah
Jermaine Fordah
El Paso Locomotive FC
“I think empathy and solidarity are needed to make a difference in this country. Most of us weren't alive when the atrocities of slavery were committed, but if we can recognize we still have issues and even though they may not directly affect or involve us it's our responsibility as human beings to say, ‘hey I'll support and stand by you and we won't accept this happening’.”
George Davis IV
George Davis IV
Louisville City FC
“Empathy and Education. Understanding that not everybody walks the same path with the same experiences. And just because you do not know what another person goes through, doesn’t mean it’s invalid. With education, we should all seek to grow and be better as individuals. You can never know too much. The more people are open to learning and listening, the better we will be as a country moving forward.”

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