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From President Drake: Commemorating Juneteenth

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Next week, the University of California community will celebrate Juneteenth — a commemoration of liberty, joy, and perseverance in the face of struggle. I am inspired by the Juneteenth events organized across the University this year. True to the breadth and depth of our institution, UC employees have access to a multitude of ways to celebrate and reflect on this holiday.

For many Black students, faculty, and staff, the day may conjure happy memories of family gatherings — joyful occasions often accompanied by good food and music. For some, it is also an important moment of reflection on delayed justice: Juneteenth marks the day enslaved people in Texas were finally free, two long years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a bittersweet day.

Few things can evoke the poignant nature of overdue change like music can. For me, music has always been a powerful portal to other worlds and a soundtrack to history. That’s been true from my early years, working at Tower Records in Sacramento, where I reveled in the freedom to listen to any record I wanted. Much later in life, I taught an undergraduate course on Civil Rights, the Supreme Court, and the Music of the Civil Rights Era.

There is so much beauty and inspiration in the way that music has helped us adapt to and shape the history of our nation. That’s especially true for music invented and inspired by Black cultures and communities. So, as I wish you all a happy Juneteenth, here are a few songs for your celebratory playlist:

  • Sam Cooke singing “A Change Is Gonna Come” — I’m always struck by the powerful emotion in the opening line
  • Aretha Franklin’s iconic “Respect,” a song by Otis Redding; and
  • Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass, with “Wake Up Everybody.”

Fiat Lux!

Michael V. Drake, M.D.
University of California

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