Celebrating Juneteenth

June 18, 2021
| Megan Reid and Amanda Coleman
Juneteenth Blog Graphic

We are reflecting on how we can learn from the history of Juneteenth as OPRE works to incorporate a race equity approach into our research, evaluation, and data work. Juneteenth is an annual holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.[1] Its name is a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth” and marks the day that the Emancipation Proclamation began being enforced in Texas — June 19, 1865 — over two and a half years after it went into effect.[2] 

Juneteenth helps us remember that moving toward justice and equity requires a continued and sustained commitment. Though this holiday, often commemorated as marking the end of slavery in the United States, was 151 years ago, the struggle for equity for African Americans and other Black Americans continues. The emancipation of African Americans from slavery was followed by almost a century of segregation dictated by law in which African Americans were subject to host of discriminatory policies in voting, housing, education, employment, medical care, and other areas.[3]Even after the passage of the Civil Right Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the legacy of legal segregation continued along with mass incarceration, racial violence, and environmental racism.[4]Celebrating events like Juneteenth and Black History Month is important for highlighting the historical circumstances and contemporary factors that shape the current constraints and opportunities experienced by African Americans and other persons of color in the US. Celebrating these events also provides an opportunity to highlight the many contributions of African Americans in the face of historical, structural, and institutional racism.

From a research and evaluation perspective, reflecting on Juneteenth underscores the importance of applying a historical and structural perspective to understanding the experiences and circumstances of African Americans today. Research informed by this perspective is grounded in an understanding of the role that social structures such as public policies, institutional practices, and other norms play in shaping the needs, strengths, and experiences of populations being studied.

To illustrate, consider the stark racial disproportionalities that exist in rates of poverty, preschool suspensions, wealth, and involvement in the criminal justice system:

  • In 2019, Black individuals and families represented 23.8% of the poverty population but only 13.2% of the total population.[5]
  • In 2011-2012, Black children made up 48% of preschool suspensions but only 18% of preschool enrollment.[6]
  • In 2019, the median wealth of Black families was less than 15% of white families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively.[7]
  • In 2019, Black individuals made up 26.6% of arrests, which is double their share of the population.[8]

Without appropriate framing, researchers and others may analyze those realities solely using the frame of individual decisions or behaviors. Applying a historical and structural perspective takes into account that past and current discriminatory policies and practices create inequitable opportunities. It also suggests that researchers should avoid using a solely comparative research framework in which the behaviors, experiences, and outcomes of White Americans are the standard or reference point against which the behaviors, experiences, and outcomes of Black Americans and other groups are assessed.

Another component of incorporating a race equity approach in research and evaluation work is ensuring that the work is culturally rigorous. Culturally rigorous (PDF) research gathers knowledge in a way that is inclusive of and responsive to the diverse cultural norms and practices of the populations being studied. Researchers can and should utilize a range of traditional and non-traditional research methods and approaches tailored to the needs and experiences of Black Americans. This allows for the identifications of the unique strengths and characteristics of diverse Black American populations and can help ensure that information gathered is appropriate and meaningful.

As one element of our efforts to support appropriately framed and culturally rigorous research, OPRE recently released a notice of funding opportunity for an African American Child and Family Research Center. This grant, at $1.8 million dollars annually for five years, will lead and support research on the needs of African American populations served by ACF and promising approaches to promote social and economic well-being among low-income African American populations. This Center will ideally bring together a diverse, inclusive, culturally sensitive, and interdisciplinary team of academic and organizational partners to provide leadership on research that is culturally rigorous and informed by structural inequities. The Center will be expected to develop research products, resources, and a comprehensive communication plan that aims to build research capacity in the field and improve understanding of African American populations in order to inform policy development and programmatic responses. For more information about this funding opportunity, please see the full announcement at: https://ami.grantsolutions.gov/HHS-2021-ACF-OPRE-PH-1916 Visit disclaimer page

Stay tuned to hear more about our race equity work later this summer in OPRE Insights!

Megan Reid, Ph.D., is a Social Science Research Analyst whose work focuses on low-income families’ circumstances, dynamics, and economic well-being.

Amanda Clincy Coleman, Ph.D., is the Deputy Division Director of OPRE’s Division of Child and Family Development. Her work focuses on child care, early education and early childhood home visiting.


[2] Ibid.

[3]See  Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2012; Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America Visit disclaimer page. London: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017; and Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard University Press, 1993.

[4] Ibid.

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