Nearly 100 UCF students, faculty and staff gathered in celebration of Juneteenth — the June 19 commemoration of the belated announcement in Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation — at John Euliano Park.

It marked the first event held on UCF’s campus since March due to COVID-19. While attendees sported face masks, their enthusiasm and energy in the simple act of being together was evident. There was laughter, dancing, and a strong sense of community.

“Mentally, people may have been drained with everything going on with coronavirus and everything going on in society,” says UCF nursing senior Oteisha Barrett, president of the Black Student Union. “As students, we feel hurt. We have Black fathers, Black brothers, sisters, friends — it’s scary right now, but hopefully by being together and gathering in small group, [we can] release and be grounded on this day of significance.”

UCF senior Oteisha Barrett sits at a table while wearing a blue face mask
Black Student Union President Oteisha Barrett (left) helped organize the Juneteenth celebration.

Barrett, a first-generation college student and the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, joined BSU as a freshman. She has previously served as the club’s marketing director and secretary, and as president this year, she helped organize the Juneteenth event.

“When I was introduced to the BSU, it was kind of like I had a family away from home,” she says. “Everyone was so kind and encouraging. It made me feel like I had a place here at UCF as a first-generation college student.”

Hector Garcia sings
UCF Gospel and Cultural Choir president Hector Garcia says he was honored to be part of the event.

Following a moment of silence to start the event in recognition of members of the Black community who have died recently as a result of police brutality, the UCF Gospel and Cultural Choir sang two songs, “Wade in the Water” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”

“We usually sing worship songs but because it is Juneteenth, we wanted to celebrate Black history. There’s no better way to celebrate Black history than by singing Negro spirituals,” says  journalism major Hector Garcia, the choir’s president. “It’s what our ancestors were singing back in the day when they were working on the plantations. Negro spirituals are a way for us to connect with them and celebrate this amazing holiday, Juneteenth.

“Bringing Black UCF together is more important now than ever. This is an amazing school and a diverse school so when we can have events like these to celebrate that diversity, it’s very important.”

CSA presentation board
The Caribbean Student Association was one of many student organizations at the event.

In coordination with the Office of Student Involvement, the following 15 student organizations helped plan the event in two weeks:

  • Black Student Union
  • National Council of Negro Women
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
  • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority
  • John T. Washington Honor Society
  • Neg Kreyol
  • Women Student Union
  • African Student Organization
  • Men of Integrity
  • Caribbean Student Association
  • National Black Law Students
  • Crown to Crown
Two men and a woman dance in a line
Interim chief Equity, Inclusion and Diversity officer S. Kent Butler (left) and two students from the UCF NAACP chapter dance during the Juneteenth Celebration.

Several students addressed the crowd, giving their thoughts about Juneteenth before the event concluded with camaraderie and socializing with a DJ playing music.

UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright talks with students
UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright talks with students.

President Alexander N. Cartwright met and talked with UCF students at Friday’s event.

“I love being around the students,” Cartwright says. “It’s energizing to have the opportunity to finally meet them in person and hear their stories and get the chance to understand what’s on their minds. I hope we can continue to find ways to connect like this, because it’s important that we don’t feel isolated.

“Today reaffirms why we are here, why we do the work we do and why so many people care about this institution.”