Remember, Reflect, and Act: Commemorating Juneteenth

What is Juneteenth?

158 years ago today, June 19th, over 250,000 African American people were brought the news of their legal freedom from chattel slavery by Union soldiers who rode into Galveston Bay, Texas (NMAAHC, n.d.). Despite the Emancipation Proclamation coming two years prior, loopholes, exceptions, and the intentionally withheld access to information for enslaved people kept many bound.

Juneteenth was made a federal holiday in the United States in 2021, and is a celebration of freedom, a day of commemoration, a recognition of the resilience of Black communities, and a call to action for further progress, repair, and healing. Communities across the United States celebrate Juneteenth in a variety of ways, from neighborhood gatherings, to art, song, dance, theater, poetry, educational activities, the preparation of special foods, and more.

Extension For All

On this Juneteenth day we not only take time to reflect on the end of a practice that has had deep social, cultural, economic, and psychological impacts, we also acknowledge the necessary and continuing work in the environmental field and beyond to make true freedom and equality a reality for all. After chattel slavery officially ended in the United States, Black people had to make a way for themselves in a world that was still hostile and unjust. Education and acquiring new skills were some of the ways that they sought to gain access to new opportunities and better the lives of their families and communities. In segregation era days, dedicated Black trailblazers such as Floy Britt, A.A. Turner, and more, served as accomplished Extension agents, despite unequal funding and support. They provided vital education and opportunities to Black youth and families living in rural areas, through what would now be known as 4-H programs (Palmer 2014).

A historic black and white photo shows children at a science fair like event displaying their projects.
Photo Credit: UF/IFAS, Smather’s Archives

Today, disproportionate amounts of African American people live in communities with hazardous air quality and in close proximity to toxic and polluting industries and facilities (Ade et al., 2020). With 68% living in an area that is classified as “nature deprived”, addressing environmental justice and increasing access to nature are crucial parts of creating a more equal society and supporting the health and wellbeing of all communities.

A young boy sits in front of a chess club tinkering with a red plastic cup invention.
A 4-H youth club member creates a ‘junk drawer’ plastic cup robot.
Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County

Sarasota County Extension is committed to serving all stakeholder groups equally and recognizes the need for all audiences to be heard and engaged. Sarasota County Extension works to ensure access to our programs and to connect all residents to vital learning opportunities by partnering with public schools, community organizations, and community-led non-profits. Our 4-H program partners with Sarasota Housing Authority and Booker Middle School to bring enriching, fun, science-focused educational community club programs to youth, many of whom showcased their 4-H projects at county and district competitions.


Environmental Justice

Extension’s Sustainability Team works with several community organizations, such as The Multicultural Health Institute (MHI) and Sarasota Housing Authority, to help alleviate the disproportionate energy cost burden experienced by families in Newtown and other communities, while also having a positive impact on their health and well-being. During our “Energy Sweeps”, Energy Coach volunteers offer education on simple actions for energy savings and perform minor energy efficiency installations for tenants in low-income communities.

Two women stand together smiling inside of a home.
Extension Sustainability Team member Alia Garrett during an Energy Sweep with a resident. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County

Another partner organization, Partners for Green Places, provided detailed energy and water audits to 29 nonprofits and community projects. One of these nonprofits was Children First, which is located in the heart of Newtown and serves many Black children and families. After receiving their energy audit and implementing upgrades, they saw 20-30% savings on utility bills, which are then reinvested into their organization, to provide essential programming and supplies to underserved children and their families.

Community-led Organizations That Promote Education, Healing, and Empowerment

There are many local nonprofits that continue to prioritize education and empowerment. Newtown Alive is a local organization that works to preserve local Black History about Newtown and Overtown through archives and repositories. Their work has produced over 400 primary and secondary source documents about life in two of Sarasota’s oldest communities. Rosemary Arts Design District (RADD) is another organization that launched the Overtown Mural Initiative to preserve the history of the Rosemary District through public art. As you walk around the Rosemary District, you’ll see numerous buildings that showcase local Black icons and history.

Three young children sit together outside, smiling happily.
Children First works to strengthen children and families through a holistic and comprehensive approach to development, education, health, and well-being.
Photo Credit: Children First

Remember, Reflect, and Act

In acknowledging Juneteenth, and learning more about Black history, we have the opportunity to understand the world we live in today, and work together to create paths to a better future. At UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, we honor Juneteenth and take action by looking at how we can continue to increase access to youth and community education, sustainable living, and educational connections to our county’s natural areas, parks, and beaches.

At the heart of Extension is a commitment to serving everyone, and we strive to do this by making our programming as accessible as possible for all. We encourage you to join us at an upcoming class or event and please reach out with feedback and opportunities. If you or someone you know is part of a group or community in Sarasota County that would like to work with us, let us know!

Personal Connections On Our Team: What Does The Message of Juneteenth Mean for You and The Work That You Do With Extension?

“Environmental justice and racial equality are intrinsically connected, and we cannot attain healthy and sustainable communities without addressing this connection and its effects. Sarasota County Extension connects our vibrant community to free educational and practical resources that support their needs.”      

-Alia Garrett, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator.

“As a communications professional, Juneteenth represents a powerful opportunity to amplify the stories and experiences of the Black community, honor our history, and create meaningful dialogue for continued progress toward racial justice. By encouraging open engagement and disseminating the information needed to build healthful lives, we at Sarasota County Extension work hard to make sure everyone has a seat at the table.”

-AJai Hilton, Communications Associate

“Spending time in nature is an opportunity for joy and learning and has proven benefits for our psychological and physical health. Reflecting on Juneteenth reminds me of the importance of increasing access to nature and joyful, comfortable experiences outdoors for communities who have been historically prevented from accessing parks and beaches, and who may have limited access to natural areas in today’s world. I want to help increase environmental literacy and show youth that careers in the ecology and natural resources and environmental education fields are an option!”

 -Zahir Ringgold Cordes, Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about Juneteenth, Sarasota County’s Black history, or current community-led efforts to elevate Black history and communities, check out the resources linked below.



Ade, C., Fend, A., Patnaik, A. (2020, August 15). Racial Disparities and Climate Change. Princeton Student Climate Initiative.

National Museum of African American History and Culture. (n.d.). Juneteenth.,as%20Juneteenth%20or%20Freedom%20Day.

Palmer, D. (2014, February 13). Project VI: Florida Extension in the Era of Segregation. UF/IFAS Blogs.


Zahir Ringgold Cordes, Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's Ecology and Natural Resources ProgramAvatar photo
Posted: June 19, 2023

Category: UF/IFAS Extension, Work & Life
Tags: Civil Rights, Equality, Equity, History, Juneteenth, Pgm_4H, Pgm_Admin, Pgm_EcoNR, Pgm_Sustain, Social Justice

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