89-year-old Opal Lee’s struggle for acknowledgement and education of the history of slavery, its scourges and eventual emancipation, was very real, as she walked from Texas to Washington DC in 2016, to petition for Juneteenth to be declared a Federal Holiday.
Gaining over 1.5 million signatures, Ms Lee was present when, finally in 2021, President Joe Biden signed on the dotted line to proclaim June 19th a National holiday in the United States of America.
The truth of history is an integral and important part of every country’s education system – and the triumphs are worthy of the trials and struggles endured in the making of that history.
Disruptions of Displacement
Wars, migration, natural disasters, and cultural/power (couched in religious) dictates bring in disruptive elements for the pursuit of education, from which a relatively small percentage of people gain real victory. And that small percentage quite often become trail blazers of change and possibilities for others.
The events at the turn of this century brought forth many such victors. People like Malala who was shot for having dared to go to school, but survived and who now campaigns to have education made available for all young women everywhere.
Ugur Sahin, a Turkish migrant to Germany, also has a story of triumph. He was not held back by his status as a migrant but went on to excel as a German oncologist and CEO of BioNTech and helped develop one of the major vaccines against COVID-19, enabling millions to survive the present pandemic.
Another, not so well-known, is Alice Achan who endured violent disruptions to her much-longed-for education not once but several times because of the civil war in Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government which lasted for nearly two decades. Going from village to village, the LRA notoriously abducted thousands of boys and girls in their early teens, as they waged their war all over the north of Uganda. The boys were trained to kill and girls used as sex slaves.
After escaping from the height of the warring conflict, Alice was burdened to work with these girls traumatised by sexual violence and with their babies, who would escape and find their way to the UN based Internally Displaced People’s camps.
Alice completed a diploma in counselling and social work which eventually led her to set up an Academy to house and nurture young women some of whom had missed years of education and who were devastated by the LRA’s campaign.
The Joy That Comes in the Morning
President Joe Biden echoed the feelings of the many people who have struggled everywhere against systemic racism, inequality and inhumanity and fought for the freedom of truth in education, when he penned these words in the Juneteenth Proclamation –
Psalm 30 proclaims that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come.
May we ever strive for and be emboldened by the truth of history in education – and never forget those who have been the trail blazers in this quest.