June 16, 2023
Dear members of the SLU community,
On Monday, June 19, the University will be closed in observance of the Juneteenth holiday.
Juneteenth is a celebration of long-awaited freedom. On June 19, 1865 – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – enslaved persons of African descent in Texas learned from arriving Union troops that they had been freed.
Two years ago, we announced that the University would recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. This official recognition was a labor of love for the late Dr. Jonathan C. Smith, SLU’s inaugural vice president of diversity and community engagement. It was Jonathan’s hope that this holiday would honor the enslaved persons whose lives and labor were essential to building and sustaining the mission of Saint Louis University, and affirm our collective commitment to advance belonging and justice on this campus and beyond.
Our annual observance of this day creates a cadence, urging us each year to continue to understand the significance of SLU’s history of slavery and its legacy. It is an annual opportunity for us to pause and reflect, as we continue our long-term journey toward reconciliation, wholeness and healing.
Juneteenth offers an opportunity to celebrate the promise of freedom, and to envision its full realization.
For many, Juneteenth signifies blessed rest and renewal – a freedom from labor that was not allowed to enslaved persons and has been unavailable to many who came after.
Juneteenth also invites learning, inquiry and reflection. It calls us to face the challenge of reconciling with our past, so that we might contribute to a more just future.
As a University community, we continue on this journey together. Since her arrival eight months ago, Vice President Rochelle D. Smith has convened a number of conversations intended to move us forward on our path toward better understanding SLU’s role in the history of slavery, and discerning what that means for our future.
We will proceed thoughtfully in the months and years ahead, as we recommit ourselves to pursue truth through a deeper understanding of our history, and as we identify the tasks we will collectively take up in the next phase of our work.
We look forward to engaging you in these efforts. We pray that our work together will be guided by God’s healing grace.
Rochelle D. Smith, M.S.
Vice President of Diversity and Innovative Community Engagement
Michael Lewis, Ph.D.
Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
Members of the SLU community are encouraged to attend local events hosted by community organizations in honor of Juneteenth.