Reflecting on the Significance of Juneteenth in Present Day We Celebrate a New Federal Holiday: Year 2

By Eve J. Higginbotham SM, MD, ML

On June 19, 2022, the nation will acknowledge for the second year, the day that enslaved Americans in the last original confederate state, first learned that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  Hundreds of miles away from Washington DC, deep in the heart of Texas, individuals were finally freed from an existence few of us can ever imagine surviving for even one hour.  Imagine learning for the first time that this federal edict signed on January 1, 1863 and not hearing this news, for the first time, until June 19 1865.  Can you imagine learning for the first time, more than two years had passed before you were told that you are free? Although you appreciate the restoration of the rights which should never had been stolen from you in the first place, you resent the delay, a system failure that created additional, unfair burden to your existence on this earth. 

Fast forward to 2022, when in some ways we continue to experience the absence of communicating with large segments of our community, resulting in inequities in care and opportunity.  Translating “what is” into “what may be” and mapping a course of action to get there, remains a goal for all of us, particularly those of us involved in the delivery of care.  This becomes our purpose every day, whether it involves being kind to a visitor appearing lost in the hallway of one of the facilities in our system, reaching out to a coworker who is not as engaged with others in our laboratory or unit, or ensuring that the patient who sits in front of you fully understands not only how to take their medication but why it is important to do so. 

The pace of the message entering the state of Texas, in small part, was related to inefficiency of communication in the 1800s however in large part was intentional, an indication that this last stronghold was resistant to the changes in federal law.  We see evidence of this same resistance today, when we consider the states that refused federal dollars to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, providing greater access to care for marginalized populations.  Closer to home and on a more positive note, we have witnessed the removal of “race” from the calculation of how well our kidneys function, providing the opportunity for more patients of color to be candidates for a kidney transplant, as one example of a structural change.  The new formula is even more accurate than the flawed calculation, an example of how systemic changes can make a difference.  This change was energized by the confluence of voices who contributed to Action for Cultural Transformation or ACT.  ACT is not just a shared strategy for us, institutionally, to remove the barriers to equitable care and an inclusive workplace, but it is a movement.  Changing the ways that we interact with other, calling out injustices that create inequities in care and opportunities, and remaining present in the moment so that we can impact the experiences of not only our colleagues in the Penn Medicine community but also the quality of care of the community we all serve.

Here are the Juneteenth Events which were shared with our Office, starting on Thursday, June 16:

 The Quattrone Center and the Penn Carey Law Office of Equity & Inclusion present a screening of A Crime on the Bayou, a film by Nancy Buirski, followed by a Q&A featuring Gary Duncan (petitioner in the U.S. Supreme Court case Duncan v. Louisiana) and producer Brenda Robinson L ’03, moderated by Paul Heaton, Academic Director of the Quattrone Center. 

Thursday, June 16, 5:30 to 8:00 pm

RSVP link - A Crime on the Bayou (

  • 16th Annual Philadelphia Juneteenth Festival

Saturday, June 18, 12pm to 6pm

Location: 6300 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia

Link -

  • SEAS Bioengineering 2022 Juneteenth Address: “Perspectives on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Through a Rehabilitation, Medicine and Robotics Research Lens” with Dr. Michelle Johnson. On Campus.

Friday, June 17, 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm

             Towne Building, Room 337

Link -

  • Black Music City at World Café Live (On Campus) Sunday, June 19; 1:00 to 5:00 pm Link: