UAMS’ Juneteenth Event Provides Opportunity to Celebrate, Reflect

By Chris Carmody

DDEI began holding the annual Juneteenth celebration in 2020, but this year was its first as an in-person event. The celebration drew an enthusiastic crowd, with some people gathering in the Hospital Lobby Gallery nearly 30 minutes early to play games and socialize.  

Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA, vice chancellor of DDEI, welcomed attendees and noted the joyful ambience in the room.

People dance in front of a banner that says, "Juneteenth Freedom Day."

Attendees dance to the music played by DJ Marcus Murphy during the Juneteenth event.Image by Evan Lewis

“This feels like a nice, family cookout-type atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a great way to bring the UAMS community together to celebrate an important day in history.” 

The event, organized by DDEI’s Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Subcommittee, was an informal affair. As some people stopped by for a meal, others stayed for games of UNO, bingo, dominoes or spades. Marcus Murphy, biomedical equipment technician in the UAMS Office of Academic Services, served as the event’s DJ, playing hit songs that had people dancing in a lunch line that snaked around the room.  

Event organizers and DDEI staff members served barbecue and catfish made by Platnum BBQ, a Black-owned restaurant and catering business in Little Rock.  

Tekeyah Williams, a patient care technician, had her photo taken under a Juneteenth banner and expressed excitement about the event. Williams, who has worked at UAMS since 2013, said she has celebrated Juneteenth since she was a child but has often had to explain the holiday to others. 

“This is the first year I’ve felt the UAMS community come together as one to celebrate my culture,” she said. 

Juneteenth is a celebration that dates to June 19, 1865, when a Union Army general arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and inform Black Americans that they were no longer slaves. Long observed by members of the Black community, Juneteenth became a federal holiday under legislation approved by Congress in 2021.  

Jamarion Oliver, assistant director in the Division of People and Culture, said the UAMS event fostered a sense of unity and reflected the spirit of the holiday. 

A group of people enjoys a game of bingo during the event.

A group of people enjoys a game of bingo during the event.Image by Evan Lewis

“By coming together in this space and celebrating freedom, we’re really showing what Juneteenth stands for,” he said.  

Sterling Moore, assistant vice chancellor for core administration, said Juneteenth offers an opportunity for the African American community to examine its past with the goal of creating a better future. 

“This is a moment for all to recognize, embrace and truly reflect on our history — who we are, where we came from and where we are today,” he said. “More importantly, we want to examine how we can continue to learn from our past in order to make this world a better place for all.” 

The dancing and celebrating continued into the final moments of the 90-minute event, long after the lunch line had waned. Kristy Caldwell, Dr.PH, student services manager for Academic Affairs, praised the DDEI staff for organizing an event that showed the togetherness of the campus community. 

“Seeing the family atmosphere in a workplace setting was so memorable,” she said. “I hope we do this again next year.”