Story by the OYA Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR)
The 2021 Juneteenth celebration at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility lasted for over six and a half days, making this one of the longest events Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR) team has ever done.
Throughout these days, every living unit took turns visiting the Timberline building to engage in different activities that provided education and an understanding of Juneteenth.
The youth got to enjoy a wonderfully done video tribute that OYA staff, community members, and former youth created in order to share their different views on what Juneteenth meant to them, what it may mean to the youth now, and how it has impacted their lives.
Through this tribute, many words of encouragement, empowerment, and a true sense of Juneteenth’s history were able to reach each youth. In the video, former OYA youth shared some of the personal life lessons they have learned to help inspire current OYA youth. These lessons included keeping a healthy environment around them, and how good daily decision-making was essential for them to stay out of trouble and maintain their freedom and a place in their community.
Youth at MacLaren watch the tribute video made by OYA staff, community members, and former OYA youth.
One of the many ways youth got to engage and share their own knowledge on Juneteenth was through a “Freedom Song Challenge” that they recorded over time in the Keys, Beats, Bars Music Studio at MacLaren. This challenge was open to all youth who wanted to participate and share their musical/lyrical talents with all who would be listening.
Through this fun and therapeutic art form, the youth were able to express how they continually persevere, have freedom of thought through this expression, and share their experiences at OYA. Each song was required to have an introduction, two verses, a chorus that repeated twice, and include a piece of Juneteenth’s history.
The youth who participated in this challenge all had the same instrumental beat to work with, keeping it a level playing field. The talented winner, Turon W. from Jasper living unit, received a lovely gift and had the song they created played during each unit’s visit to Timberline during the Juneteenth celebrations.
Juneteenth at Other OYA Facilities
OIIR also led Juneteenth celebrations at Camp Tillamook and Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility.
At Camp Tillamook, youth enjoyed a special meal as part of their learning and remembering the history and culture of Black people in the South, and the impacts of Juneteenth that continue today everywhere.
The Juneteenth celebration at the Oak Creek facility was a fun and uplifting experience for the youth, staff and community members who participated in the festivities. This event focused on hope, unity, and female empowerment.
The beginning of this event opened with a wonderful song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, that touched on the spirit that represents Juneteenth and has now come to be known as the anthem for it all. The emcee of the event, an OIIR staff person, elaborated on the meaning of this song and the community it represents, as well as the importance of Juneteenth as a whole. Some lovely personal essays about hope and excitement for the future were also shared by a few of the youth during the festivities.
Oak Creek youth participated in a fashion show as a part of their Juneteenth celebration.
Multiple youth got to participate in the event’s main activity, a fashion show, allowing them to represent their own uniqueness and diverse community. By participating in this event, the youth were able to face their own feelings of nervousness and anxiety, which allowed them to view themselves in a different light — a light where they now see themselves as empowered young people who are capable of success.
All three Juneteenth events were inspirational and provided a new platform for OYA youth and staff to have conversations on some of the more difficult topics of history and how it affects us all today.
OIIR would like to thank all the OYA youth, staff and community members who were an integral part of the Juneteenth celebrations. We could not have done it without you all!
“Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.”Albert Edwards, former Texas state representative who led the charge to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1979.