Reflections on Juneteenth & DACA

June 19, 2020

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Dear Canisius College Community,

Today, at Canisius and throughout our nation, we take time to recognize two significant events and reflect on those who have unjustly lived at the margins of society. 

First, people across the nation are recognizing the Juneteenth celebration in new, important ways – a day that is celebrated within the Black community as the complete, albeit delayed, end of slavery in the United States.  Although technically abolished in 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, were read the Emancipation Proclamation by Union General Gordon Granger, informing them that, at last, they were free.  Many people are unaware of the significance of this day in Black history and we certainly can credit the Black Lives Matter movement for awakening us all to the meaning behind the celebration.  This is just a small starting point that should compel us all to go much farther – through education, conversation, art, music, and literature, through shared pain, and through firm but peaceful protest – to have a deep and genuine understanding of the injustices our Black and Brown brothers and sisters face daily, and then work relentlessly to dismantle the systems, structures, and attitudes that prevent racism’s collapse.  I look forward to our college community centering energy around these crucial topics when we gather together again this fall.  We know there is much more work ahead.

Secondly, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to halt the current administration’s efforts to terminate DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), was a temporary victory for immigrants and refugees, not unlike the people Canisius was founded to serve in 1870.  The decision to uphold DACA, which allows undocumented young people brought to the United States as children to apply for a temporary status that protects them from deportation and permits them to work, is indeed positive news for the many people who have lived in fear of being forced back to their homelands, which for many they have never seen. The decision, however, is not a permanent one. It is based on a legal procedural issue that the president is able to redress.  Congress must act quickly to develop a legislative solution that would have more permanence than the executive order which created the DACA Program.  Students from foreign nations are our friends, neighbors, and companions. They enrich our universities and communities in unparalleled ways, and I urge you to join me and look for opportunities to participate in the advocacy on this issue. As Canisius approaches its 150 anniversary date, we remember that Canisius has always walked in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. And they, documented or otherwise, are always welcomed among us.

I close today with the words of James Baldwin, scholar and author, who wrote in The Fire Next Time, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

Let’s make ourselves vulnerable to the love that challenges and defines our human connection and is the source of hope and transformation capable of moving our society forward.

President, Canisius College