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Young African American girl reading a book with her father
• Jun 17, 2021

Juneteenth became a federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed the bill to commemorate the day the last slaves were freed in the United States. June 19th is also a day to take the time to educate ourselves in hopes of a brighter tomorrow.

In that spirit, First Book, a Washington D.C. non-profit organization dedicated to educational equity, has launched a new initiative, Black Kids Matter, to empower the voices of Black children. First Book will distribute 17,000 books that focus on the voices of children of color in underserved communities.

This initiative is funded through the TD Ready Commitment and National Grid, an energy company serving the Northeastern United States. The TD Ready Commitment is the bank's corporate citizenship program committed to improving society in areas where the bank can have the greatest impact.

The Black Kids Matter initiative kicked off in seven states last month, where educators encouraged their students to participate by expressing the many ways that Black kids, and others from diverse backgrounds, are special. Participants submitted videos, drawings, writing and poetry about their experiences.

"The Black Kids Matter initiative really tied into the message of cultural pride and awareness," said Erinn Corbett-Wright, TD Charitable Foundation Program Manager. "It really elevates the experiences and narratives of Black children. Juneteenth was started by Black people for Black people. This tradition continues in the design of this initiative. Children are owning their stories and making clear to the world exactly what they want that story to be."

Erinn Corbett-Wright with her son

First Book will make books available through schools and programs serving children in low-income and historically excluded communities. Educators will select book titles best suited for program participants in pre-K through 12th grade. The books are being distributed throughout June, just in time for children to have on hand for summer reading.

The public may also purchase books included in the Black Kids Matter collection to expand their knowledge.

"When you look at the research, many 'book deserts' in the U.S. today are concentrated in low-income communities. On top of that, lack of access is one of the greatest contributors to educational inequity in the United States," said Shelley Sylva, Head of U.S Social Impact at TD Bank. "Through the TD Ready Commitment, we're focused on supporting organizations aimed at closing those gaps, which is why we are so excited to be supporting First Book and the Black Kids Matter initiative to get more books into the homes of children across the country."

Juneteenth celebrates the true day of emancipation

Juneteenth is the celebration of the day June 19, 1865 when Union Major-General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston, Texas that started with:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.

Texas was the most remote state in the Confederacy. There were few Union troops present to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation enacted by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The last slaves were freed after the Civil War ended in 1865 when reinforcement forces arrived in Galveston.

Commemorations of the day, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day, has been continuing since that first celebration, although it has evolved throughout the years. Celebrations were often tied to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. A strong connection emerged tying the holiday to the arts, music and poetry of different African Homelands by the mid-1970s.

The celebration of the day was mostly focused in the Black community. The 2020 Juneteenth feature on Michele LarMoore focused on the rich history of the day within her family. Michele, TD Bank's Head of Business Transformation, is a published author who has chronicled her family's history in the U.S.

There was a long-standing legislative effort to make Juneteenth a national holiday before the bill reached the desk of President Biden on June 17. The legislation gained momentum after the protests around the world sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a policeman last year.

Juneteenth has become more prominent in recent years within the Black community as well.

"While I may not have formally observed Juneteenth prior to about five years ago, the tradition of emancipation and liberation has existed in my family for a long time," Erinn said. "My maternal and paternal great-grandfathers were both born into slavery. The meaning of Juneteenth runs deeper for my family than what may be visible. It is an important holiday. It is an important legacy and a tradition that I hope to extend with my son and in future generations of my family."

Erinn notes the important of designating Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

"To recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday means that we are expanding our definitions of freedom within the U.S," she said. "This acknowledgement of Juneteenth is a continuation of the journey toward acceptance and equity in our communities."

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