"Juneteenth is a Celebration of Resilience." Dr. Milo Dodson Explains One of America's Most Significant Holidays

Juneteenth is one of America’s most important holidays. We learn about its history and significance with Dr. Milo Dodson.

8 min
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Jun 18, 2021
Dr. Milo Dodson

On Saturday, June 19th, America will recognize one of its most important historical milestones — the total emancipation of the country’s slaves following the Civil War — with Juneteenth.

While it’s obvious why the Juneteenth holiday is important, what’s less clear is why it’s long been ignored or forgotten since it was first observed in 1866. To help us understand the history of this significant event, why its observance is important to dance music fans and our mental health, we talk to Dr. Milo Dodson, a licensed psychologist who has worked with some of the biggest names in sports and music. Dr. Dodson also provides a list of resources on Juneteenth so you can get involved.

First, thank you for joining us today! For those who aren’t familiar with you or your work, can you please tell us a little bit about your background?

I’m honored and grateful to share space with everyone! It’s exciting to know that you’re utilizing this platform to educate and empower.

I’m a licensed psychologist in the state of California and serve as Senior Manager for Diversity and Inclusion and Community Outreach for Belkin International, Inc.

I’m a committed advocate for service-based leadership, directing hip-hop artist Common’s Dreamers and Believers Summer Youth Camp for nearly six years, and volunteering for both Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp and Kenny Stills’ Still Growing Summit. I contributed an original essay to April Ryan’s book At Mama’s Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White, speak as an invited guest for radio stations and keynotes, including a panel with Kerry Washington, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Yesi Ortiz for the movie Crown Heights. My unique pedigree as a counseling psychologist informs my empowering approach for improving companies’ diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging commitments.

I also co-host a podcast with nationally acclaimed radio personality Yesi Ortiz called Mental Health is R.E.A.L. (Reflecting Empathy and Love) to discuss wellness, mental health, and social justice.

What is Juneteenth and why is it significant? And why do you think so many people are not aware of it?

Juneteenth is a celebration of resilience.

Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas. The historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times. (Source: National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu)

To be clear: The fact that so many people are not aware of Juneteenth and its significance is not by mistake or happenstance. Within the USA (and globally, for that matter), our education system has largely neglected and overlooked Juneteenth. Some view it as unnecessary given the nation’s “Independence Day” is just two weeks away and it even is “un-American” to others. There’s a pervasive thought that “Since the Fourth of July is the day that all Americans gained independence, what’s the point?” The systemic and institutional bias at play here is further highlighted in one of my favorite lyrics from Common: “Justice is juxtapositionin’ us/ Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.” There are far too many historical and sociopolitical examples that prove “freedom” and “justice” were not equitably created for all Americans after the Declaration of Independence was signed, particularly for enslaved Africans (i.e, The Three-Fifths Compromise, 13th Amendment, Jim Crow, etc.). Juneteenth is a specific and necessary celebration for African Americans that should be both taught AND celebrated because African American history is American history.

Why should Juneteenth be important to the music industry specifically?

Juneteenth is a day where we celebrate freedom, hope, and the ongoing pursuit of justice. Music is about the freedom of self-expression; a space where we are seen, validated, and celebrated for our talent and contributions. So, given that most musical genres – including electronic – have roots in music created by Black folks, it’s a no-brainer to me.

Why should electronic music fans care about Juneteenth?

As Whitney Wei astutely states in her piece for Electronic Beats: “Electronic Music Is Black Protest Music. Clubbing and its culture of escapism originated in Black and Brown communities.” Electronic music fans should care because like the genre, Juneteenth is life-giving, liberating, AND a cultural expression within various systems that have historically turned down the volume of Black folks’ voices.

How does Juneteenth affect mental health in the workplace?

At its core, workplace wellbeing is about being able to bring our authentic selves to work each day, feeling engaged in our tasks, experiencing a sense of belonging, and being physically/mentally HEALTHY. It’s not just about forcing folks to disclose their various identities, but more so, it’s about ensuring a workplace’s policies and procedures are inclusive. By acknowledging Juneteenth in the workplace, we explicitly send the message to all employees that freedom, equity, and inclusion are core values, while also simultaneously sending a message that Black Lives do matter. Feeling valued and appreciated will have a huge impact on employees’ mental health, thus naturally helping improve productivity and performance.

For those who want to get involved or even celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, what kinds of activities or causes do you recommend?

Learn from and donate to:

National Museum of African American History & Culture
Know Your Rights Camp
Black Music Collective
Black Girls Rock
Black Girls Code
Guide to Black-Owned Businesses in LA

Where can people go to learn more about the history of Juneteenth?

National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu)
History.com — What is Juneteenth?
PBS — The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross

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