ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) --
Hundreds gathered to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday through song, dance, poetry and storytelling at the first official Juneteenth ceremony held at the Pentagon June 21.
Attended by U.S. Air and Space Force leaders, Defense Department personnel, and service members, this event commemorated the proclamation of freedom for enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865, making it the final state to receive the news to end slavery in America.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall provided opening remarks and painted memories of his childhood during the civil rights movement — recalling the discrimination and racism he witnessed firsthand.
He declared the civil rights movement and the Juneteenth holiday were not the ends of a journey that began when slavery entered the U.S., casting its dark shadow of hatred, inhumanity and inequality.
“Juneteenth is a day when all Americans should pause and reflect on where we are today in that journey, and what they — white, black, or otherwise — can do to help us continue on the path to justice,” he explained. “The journey isn’t over, and the phase in which we find ourselves now may be the most difficult.”
Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond echoed Kendall’s sentiment as he encouraged the audience to take a moment to reflect upon the promise of freedom that the 19th of June, 1865, offered.
“‘A dream doesn’t become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination, and hard work,’” Raymond remarked, quoting the late Gen. Colin Powell. “Today, we are determined to do the hard work to ensure everyone in the Department of the Air Force is treated with equal respect and afforded the same opportunities.”
The DAF has made strides in recent years by addressing and providing solutions to racial, ethnic and other demographic disparity issues and their impact on the forces. Solutions implemented include facilitating minority-serving institutions ROTC scholarships, revising dress and appearance regulations, improving shaving waiver procedures as well as instituting Diversity, Inclusion, and Unconscious Bias Training.
“The Department of the Air Force continues to recognize and maintain the freedom of all persons, promoting a culture where all Airmen and Guardians, no matter their diverse background, have the opportunity to serve and reach their full potential,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen CQ Brown, Jr. “And though the military’s recorded treatment of its service members of diverse backgrounds is spotted, we cannot deny that the military and the Department of the Air Force is a force for good in the advancement of the quality of freedom.”
Kendall continued Brown’s sentiments in his closing remarks and urged the audience to reflect on how they could individually participate in building a better environment for all.
“Take some time and consider how you can be an active participant in moving America forward,” Kendall urged. “Learn more about the experiences of fellow Americans whose lives may have been very different from your own. All leaders, but especially military leaders, benefit from having empathy for the people they lead.”
Special performances, coordinated by the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Diversity and Inclusion, included Bowie State Gospel Choir, Hampton University Terpsichorean, Farafina Kan West African Percussion and Dance Ensemble, and individual acts performed to celebrate Black cultural and social contributions.
For more information on diversity and inclusion efforts across the DAF, visit www.af.mil/diversity.