Whitney Brooks and Cate Readling at last year’s Juneteenth Celebrations in Oak Park (photo credit: Paul Goyette)

This blog post is written by the Collaboration for Early Childhood’s Community Ambassador, Whitney Brooks.

Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black Americans for over 150 years, though it has only recently been recognized by the mainstream American culture, becoming a federal holiday in 2021. On June 19th, 1865, the enslaved people in Texas finally learned of their freedom when Union soldiers arrived to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln nearly two and a half years earlier. Since then, events have been held annually on June 19th in various parts of the United States both to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans, and to honor and celebrate Black American Culture. 

I believe that books are one of the best and most important tools for educating ourselves and raising empathetic children. Here are a few books you can read with your child (all available at the Oak Park Public Library!) to learn about the importance of this holiday together.

  • Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper. Mazie is ready to celebrate liberty. She is ready to celebrate freedom. She is ready to celebrate a great day in American history. The day her ancestors were no longer slaves. Mazie remembers the struggles and the triumph, as she gets ready to celebrate Juneteenth.
  • All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson. Experience the joy of Juneteenth in this celebration of freedom from the award-winning team of Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis. Through the eyes of one little girl, All Different Now tells the story of the first Juneteenth, the day freedom finally came to the last of the slaves in the South. Since then, the observance of June 19 as African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.
  • Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan. Every year, Opal looked forward to the Juneteenth picnic–a drumming, dancing, delicious party. She knew from Granddaddy Zak’s stories that Juneteenth celebrated the day the freedom news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally sailed into Texas in 1865–over two years after the President had declared it! But Opal didn’t always see freedom in her Texas town. Then one Juneteenth day when Opal was twelve years old, an angry crowd burned down her brand-new home. This wasn’t freedom at all. She had to do something! But could one person’s voice make a difference? Could Opal bring about national recognition of Juneteenth? Follow Opal Lee as she fights to improve the future by honoring the past.

There are even more ways to celebrate in the community listed on the Library’s website


About Whitney Brooks, our Guest Contributor!

Whitney joined the Collaboration in the summer of 2018 as a Community Ambassador. Prior to that she had been a stay at home mother for many years, and now brings a unique perspective both as a parent of two children, and as a preschool teacher here in Oak Park. As a Community Ambassador, Whitney is heavily involved in community outreach and leading our parent team, Families First | La Familia Primero. She also helps facilitate the Collaboration’s Parent Leadership Training. Additionally, she serves on the Family Advisory Committee for the Illinois Early Learning Council. Whitney holds a BA in Criminology and Sociology from Dominican University. If YOU are interested in learning more about Parent Leadership Training, or getting involved in Families First | La Familia Primero, reach out to Whitney! Her email is wbrooks@collab4kids.org.

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