The library staff behind UCR’s Juneteenth celebration, Access Services Desk Coordinator Leslie Settle and Administrative Assistant Rochelle Settle
June 23, 2021

UC Riverside’s second annual Juneteenth celebration took place June 15-18, 2021 -- but many may not know that a library employee spearheaded the genesis of this event.

“With knowledge comes power,” said Leslie Settle, Access Services Desk Coordinator. “I didn’t learn about Juneteenth until college because it’s not something we are taught in school. Once aware, I made an effort to ensure it was something I not only celebrated, but commemorated.” According to Settle, Juneteenth or Jubilee Day was widely celebrated in the late 1800s but was met with bloody violence by some who did not like that Black people were no longer enslaved. What was once a beautiful celebration became fearful and life-endangering.

Her passion and desire to educate others about the significance of Juneteenth inspired Leslie to chair the inaugural UCR Juneteenth celebration in 2020, to recognize the achievements and contributions of UCR’s Black faculty, staff, students, and alumni. “I knew our campus community was hurting, dealing with two pandemics, and it was important to bring UC together as a community and fellowship, celebrating our freedom and life.” She enlisted the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFASA), African Student Programs (ASP), and the Black Alumni Chapter (BAC) as event partners.

On June 18, 2021, U.S. President Biden declared Juneteenth a Federal holiday and UC President Michael Drake added it to the University of California holiday calendar.

Leslie had campaigned for the last several years to achieve this goal. “Juneteenth being recognized as a Federal holiday was a breath of fresh air. I was so excited that after years, it finally happened,” Leslie said. “I know many people in my community felt like it was another way to satisfy ‘us’ with a symbolic victory rather than economic equity and real justice, but not me. This was a major accomplishment for me personally and I can still see the joy on my daughter's face when I told her what happened in our nation. This Federal recognition is the gateway to deal with our American past and push forward together as an American people. Juneteenth is not just a ‘Black’ holiday. It is a freedom holiday that all Americans should celebrate and enjoy together.”

For 2021, the Juneteenth Celebration expanded to a week-long online event, and another library employee, Rochelle Settle, volunteered to handle talent acquisition. “Juneteenth being recognized as a federal holiday is a step in a good direction. It recognizes my ancestor’s plight, struggle and emancipation from the horrors of slavery,” she said.

During the Juneteenth celebration, Leslie served as the Mistress of Ceremonies and Rochelle gave beautiful a cappella performances of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn composed in 1900 by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, and “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, written during the Civil Rights Era. Rochelle and Will Pines, disability specialist from the Academic Resource Center, coordinated the event speakers, including panelists Dr. Jamal Myrick, director of African Student Programs; Dr. Barry Settle from Allen Chapel AME in Riverside; Kristy J. Heisser, President and Founder of Malcolm’s Heart Inc.; Deidre Reyes, UCR Class of 2021 graduate; and keynote speaker Charles Lee-Johnson, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Social Work at California Baptist University. Several other UCR Library employees contributed to the Juneteenth kickoff event on June 16, a video tribute called Messages of Freedom.

“Living on the West Coast, this holiday was not always celebrated like it was in the south, so it is up to us to educate others,” Rochelle said. “I heard one African-American young woman say that she had never heard much about Juneteenth until this week-long event. I was so encouraged that all of us, collectively, were able to contribute to her and I’m sure many others (all races) in learning about this part of American history.”

During his keynote speech, Lee-Johnson spoke of how Juneteenth celebrations could create a ripple effect of positivity. “I believe participating in Juneteenth has given me a new insight on how I see and value others. My ripple effect will be to continue to acknowledge the accomplishments of all my coworkers, embrace fellowship with one another, and embrace our differences,” Leslie said. “I think in the end, this ripple will boost morale in the workplace and increase productivity. We are definitely stronger together.”

Rochelle added, “We will never know how far out those ripples will spread into the lives of UCR staff, faculty, and their circles. I thought it was a beautiful thing to witness people of all races, colors and backgrounds come together to celebrate Juneteenth.”

For those interested in learning more about Juneteenth, the library has many resources on the subject. Additionally, library staff and ASP collaborated last June to create a Black Lives Matter resource guide.