Today is Juneteenth.

June 19, 1865, was the day when the last slaves in the land became free. Although Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, the most remote slave state of Texas did not get the word until Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to proclaim all slaves free. Until then, they were treated as slaves and believed they were slaves. Until that day, not all African Americans were free. 

One hundred and fifty-five years later, some White Americans still haven’t gotten the message. This is obvious considering the rampant violence against Blacks and the systemic racism that continues in every sector of society.

As for Juneteenth, many well-meaning Americans of other races are not aware of this sacred day, but most African Americans know it by this name and by several others: Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day. We have a special flag commemorating the day and, like the American flag, it is red, white and blue. The day lives on in our hearts as a celebration of our history and dignity, and the enormous influence we have had on American culture. It is long past time to teach about the meaning of this day and act on it.

Because of the horrific public killing of George Floyd on May 25, a vivid reminder of other recent murders of Black Americans, protests have swept the nation and the world and delivered us into a new age of action, bigger than the civil rights movement. So now, as the majority of Americans have awakened to the righteous meaning of Black Lives Matter, there is a sudden wider awareness of the Juneteenth holiday, and even a crusade to celebrate it as a national holiday.

That will change nothing. 

It has been a long time since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was declared a national holiday, and we have not won equality under the law or at the hands of the police. We as a nation have yet to open a serious discussion on race. But in recent weeks, we detect the glimmers of change and genuine hope. 

So I would like to make a suggestion. Particularly because you are educators and educational leaders who have such an impact on our children, I would like to suggest that you make this a teachable moment, not just another symbolic one. 

Make sure your colleagues and students understand what Juneteenth is and turn it into a day of action. Do something. On Juneteenth read about African American history. Read King’s incomparable Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Write letters to urge our elected officials to support policies for equity and justice for Black people. Donate to Black-led organizations fighting for social justice. Raise your voices to let it be known that Black Lives Matter. We encourage you to send us your actions, so that we may inspire your brothers and sisters across the country. But please find a way to make a difference.

And together we will make a difference, because we have to. For our students, colleagues, families and communities—and especially for those who stood before us and sacrificed so much.