What Juneteenth means for health equity

Juneteenth Vectors by Vecteezy

This past weekend we celebrated Juneteenth. A new holiday to many Americans, considering it’s the second year of it being a national holiday.

However, growing up as a little Black Baptist girl in Kansas City — my family and my Sunday/Vacation Bible School teachers anchored us in knowing why Juneteenth was our day of liberation.

Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) was when some people held in bondage in Texas, approximately 250,000, became “free” people. That’s 900 days after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

Free to live. Move away. Work when and how they chose — although encouraged to stay put.

As an adult and the mother of a little Black boy, I share these teachings with my son and carry them into the work I do at the Kansas City Health Equity Learning and Action Network (KC HE LAN). This is important because after 157 years, the systemic oppression that we now classify as social determinants of health — such as lack of quality and affordable health and health care, food, housing, transportation, education, as well as equal protection under the law — has kept our path far away from “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In an attempt to correct some of these de facto inequities and after many years of holding dreams and the desire to create an initiative that would center and drive health equity forward in our region, KC HE LAN was birthed in 2020.

It is my community’s imperative that we know, own, and be proud of our cultural identity. That’s why we celebrate Juneteenth each year, as a reminder of freedom, answered prayer, and held hope. And yet, there are freedoms we still long for. 

We’re addressing deep and long-standing health inequities by helping leaders recognize the systems and practices that stifle people-centered health and health care — as well as the power and duty each of us is responsible for. Together, we’re building the foundations for a better, culturally responsive health care ecosystem that meets our whole community’s needs. 

  • No one is better suited to inform the solutions needed in our health care systems than the people who have experienced firsthand the harmful discrimination in those systems. We actively engage people with lived experience to inform the solutions our region needs to achieve health equity. 
  • We commit to collective action through shared learning and accountability. 
  • We will act to highlight mindsets and change policies, processes and systems that perpetuate health inequity.

It’s in the spirit of Juneteenth that we center our work on removing racism from all aspects of the health care system and all its ancillary fruits that prevent true freedom. That spirit drives us to listen. Listen to the voices of Black mothers that say, “This feels different than my last pregnancy. Can you please check it out?” That spirit requires us to take the extra time to partner and educate a Black man that says, “I don’t have high blood pressure, but it runs in my family. Is there something I should watch for?”

The spirit of liberation drives us to expect people, whose skin happens to be black, or brown, to be people that are in pursuit of their own version of life, liberty and happiness.

It is my community’s imperative that we know, own, and be proud of our cultural identity. That’s why we celebrate Juneteenth each year, as a reminder of freedom, answered prayer, and held hope. And yet, there are freedoms we still long for. 

As a Black Kansas Citian mom and a woman in service of Kansas City, I honor the teachings of my community that taught me who we were as a people — before, during, and after bondage.

Happy Juneteenth! 


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Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006