By Steve Blanchard - June 16, 2023
When the Juneteenth flag raises over Moffitt Cancer Center’s McKinley Campus on June 19, it will be a symbol of understanding, community and progress according to Dr. Vonetta Williams.
Williams, who is a core staff scientist at Moffitt and has been a team member for 17 years, said seeing the Juneteenth flag on display by her employer for the third consecutive year is empowering.
“The flag not only commemorates an important date in our collective history, but it shows that Moffitt is attempting to understand the significance and is making an attempt to make us all feel as though we belong, regardless of our racial or ethnic background.”
Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday by President Joe Biden in 2021 and recognizes the end of slavery in the United States — June 19, 1865. That was the day when Union soldiers brought news of freedom to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered.
It was also more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in the Southern states.
“Holidays such as these are meant to recognize milestones, and this significant day in our nation’s history deserves this acclaim,” said Moffitt president and CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu.
"Holidays such as these are meant to recognize milestones, and this significant day in our nation’s history deserves this acclaim."- Dr. Patrick Hwu, Moffitt President and CEO
Representation is important at the cancer center. It has several team member engagement networks, including the Black Empowerment Alliance at Moffitt (BEAM). Williams, along with BEAM Chair and Associate Director of Industry Alliances Dr. Latanya Scott, believe recognizing the Juneteenth holiday in such a significant way lets team members, patients and their families know that everyone is welcome at the cancer center.
“Moffitt feels we should be included and recognized in front of everyone,” Scott said. “It’s a way to put us out there for the world to see. Moffitt is not afraid to let everyone know the value of our history, your history — everyone’s history.”
Moffitt’s Juneteenth celebration will begin with a social gathering at the cancer center’s McKinley Outpatient Center before moving outside, weather permitting. A short ceremony is scheduled to acknowledge the holiday before hoisting the Juneteenth flag.
“We want African Americans, especially those experiencing cancer, to feel comfortable coming to Moffitt and receiving treatment,” said J’Nai Tombs, who works in Moffitt’s clinical trial business office. “This is a big step in shattering some of the myths and historical disparities that have happened in our history, even in cancer research.”
And while Juneteenth recognizes the freedom of Black enslaved people, it’s a historic event that every American should celebrate, according to Rania Abdulla, a senior research project manager in Moffitt’s Health Outcomes and Behavior Program.
“The more Juneteenth is out there the more people will understand it,” Abdulla said. “There are always next steps and recognizing the significance of this from a historical perspective is a big part of that.”
The red, white and blue flag is recognized by the National Juneteenth Observation Foundation as the official symbol of Juneteenth. It was designed by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, in 1997 with the help of collaborators Verlene Hines, Azim, Eliot Design and Boston-based illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf.
Each element of the flag has a specific meaning:
- The white star in the center of the flag represents Texas, the Lone Star State, where the country’s last remaining slaves were notified that they were free under the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued two years earlier. It is also symbolic of freedom for Black Americans in all 50 states, which are represented by stars on the American flag.
- The bursting outline around the star was inspired by a nova, an astronomy term for new star. In this case, it symbolizes a new beginning for the Black Americans of Galveston, Texas, and throughout the land.
- The curve that extends across the width of the flag represents a new horizon: the opportunities and promise that lay ahead for Black Americans.
- The red, white and blue hearkens back to the American flag, a reminder that slaves and their descendants were and are Americans. Juneteenth marks the day that all enslaved Black people across the nation formally became Americans under the law.
For over two decades, communities around the country have held Juneteenth flag-raising ceremonies in celebration of this freedom and upgraded status. However, we recognize that the work is not done, and help is needed to elevate each of us onto level footing. Moffitt flies the Juneteenth flag to memorialize our commitment to health equity for communities experiencing cancer disparities, like the Black community and other underrepresented minorities. We hope it also serves as a reminder that each of our diverse perspectives and experiences can make a difference and bring the dream of freedom from cancer within reach for all cancer patients.