Juneteenth: A step toward racial equity in education

Add to RSS Feed

With President Biden signing law to establish Juneteenth as a nationally recognized holiday this week, matters of racial equity in our schools and communities have become more prevalent than ever before.

“By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — (we can) celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come and the distance we have to travel.”

– President Joe Biden, June 17, 2021


The newly recognized holiday commemorates the 1865 emancipation of African American slaves in Texas after the signing of the 13th amendment. These enslaved individuals, primarily located in and around Galveston, were still living in bondage two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Recognizing Juneteenth and the positive impact that increased diversity has on student lives and society as a whole, school leaders across the country are transforming institutional mission statements to promote more diversity and inclusion.

However, with differing opinions regarding affirmative action and other initiatives designed to implement change, the struggle for racial equity in U.S. schools continues.

Observing Juneteenth nationwide is a monumental step toward advancing racial equity by acknowledging that the social construct of the United States is continually impacted by a history of segregation, discrimination, and slavery.

Equity vs. equality

Equity is often confused with equality. While the terms may seem synonymous and similarly optimal, there is a primary difference:

Equality refers to the provision of resources and support in matching amounts. Equity requires the proportional distribution of resources and support based on the needs of individuals who are often overlooked as a result of race, gender, or orientation.

Contemporary conditions for minoritized students

The aim of racial equity in education is to provide opportunities for historically minoritized students who have been deprived of the advantages offered to their white counterparts.

Contemporary data illuminates the prevailing remnants of the Jim Crow era in addition to the jarring disparities between minority and white students.

A 2018 study conducted by the Center for American Progress determined that each year, public colleges allocate $5 billion less towards the education of black and latino students than they do their white peers. Individually, that means white students receive $1,000 more from both four-year and two-year public colleges annually.

 Further data from the Civil Rights Data Collection shows that throughout the school year, white students are also less likely to experience suspension, expulsion and arrest. In 2016, data collected by the CRDC from 96,000 U.S. public schools showed that black students accounted for nearly one-third of school arrests despite representing only 15% of the student population.

On average, black and latino students are also concentrated in schools with fewer resources, less qualified teachers, and less representation in school personnel.

 The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted disparities further when students were forced to learn remotely during the 2020/2021 school year. A study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University determined that black students were eight percent less likely to have the availability of high speed internet. This impacted student performance, engagement, and accessibility to resources and student support.

Efforts toward equity

With an increasingly egalitarian lens on education, many individuals and organizations are doing their part to provide more equitable opportunities for underprivileged minority students. 

Following her two-night Coachella performance inspired by the vibrant culture of historically black colleges and universities, singer/performer Beyonce Knowles-Carter donated $100,000 to four HBCUs through her #BEYGOOD service initiative in 2018.  

Last year following the detainment and death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin donated $60 million toward two Atlanta-based HBCUs and another $60 million toward the United Negro College Fund. 

Recently, Wells Fargo announced plans to donate $5.6 million as part of the Our Money Matters initiative to underprivileged students in financial debt or struggling to locate food and housing. The funds will be distributed among seven universities: six historically black colleges and universities and one public university with a significant percentage of minority students.

Among the largest donations, philanthropist and billionaire MackKenzie Scott has contributed over $500 million toward HBCUs and other minority-serving higher education institutions

Made available through the American Rescue Plan of 2021, the U.S. Government has also allocated over $3 billion for HBCUs, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions.

Continuing advocacy

Achieving equity within our schools extends beyond the efforts of our nation’s administrators, educators, and students. It requires more than the generous contributions of our country’s wealthiest philanthropists. Each of us can perpetuate positive change through acknowledging and empathizing with the experiences of others, viewing one another as global citizens, and understanding that we are all equally human.

ConexED advocates the continuing fight for racial equity, diversity and inclusion within our nation’s schools, communities and workplaces.