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DHA Director: Juneteenth is ‘Truly a Day to Celebrate’

Image of DHA Director: Juneteenth is ‘Truly a Day to Celebrate’. U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Plehn, president of the National Defense University; Defense Health Agency Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland; Melody Smith, associate dean of administration and chief of staff; and John Freeman, director of the National Defense University attend a celebration of Juneteenth at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. on June 14 (Photo Credit: Robert Hammer).

Diversity is what makes “America special and makes us strong,” said Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen Telita Crosland in recognition of Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth itself is sometimes referred to as our second Independence Day,” she said during her keynote address June 14 at a National Defense University observing Juneteenth. “That’s a profound sentence—our second Independence Day.”

Juneteenth honors the day when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865. It is the oldest-known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Crosland noted that educational opportunities are often a central part of Juneteenth celebrations.

“It’s human nature to reflect on the past, to want to understand our country’s history, and how events and people helped shape the present,” said Crosland.

Crosland shared some vignettes about the importance and impact that black history and individuals have had in shaping our country.

“Black Americans have sometimes had a conflicted feeling about the 4th of July, about Independence Day,” said Crosland. “In today’s world, we know that the promises made in that declaration apply to all of us: all ethnicities, all colors, all religions, all genders.”

But she acknowledged that despite these words, this wasn’t reality on July 4, 1776, when these same rights did not apply to all.

“The Juneteenth holiday is when we, as a nation, agreed that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution … it applies to all of us,” Crosland said. “Juneteenth is the holiday that is about inclusion.”

She mentioned that this celebration wasn’t without sacrifice.

“Hundreds of thousands of individuals gave the ultimate sacrifice, to include the President of the United States, not knowing if the outcome would be successful,” said Crosland. “Principles, perseverance, courage. Those are attributes still relevant today as we confront intolerance and events where we aren’t living up to our values.”

She mentioned she was recently at Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and reflected on about the historical significance of diversity. Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island was the key station through which more than 12 million immigrants arrived in the United States.

“It wasn’t lost on me that there I was, at Ellis Island, with the Statue of Liberty looking over us, that I was asked to join others at this sacred place where so many individuals first became Americans,” said Crosland. “Our mental picture of Ellis Island, from the turn of the 20th century is one where millions of people, largely European, also showed courage and took tremendous risk to get here.

“But they came by boat…on their own volition.”

She acknowledged that like millions of African Americans, she was representing “part of the American fabric that didn’t voluntarily choose to come here.”

Crosland noted that she is proud of the way that the Department of Defense is also aiming to make itself better and to make needed changes.

“It's not simply diversity for diversity’s sake, but a real recognition that this diversity is what makes America special and makes us strong.”

One of these shifts is the changing of the names of military bases, hospitals, and clinics to acknowledge the diversity of those who have had great influence in our nation’s military.

“Recognition matters here, too,” Crosland said. “A few weeks ago, I had the great honor of renaming Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital to the Alexander T. Augusta Military Medical Center.”

Alexander Augusta “was the highest-ranking black officer in the Union Army, and a physician, one of very few black physician officers,” she added. He later became the first African American to lead a hospital and the first black physician on the faculty of Howard University.

“We should have honored a man like Alexander Augusta a long time ago,” said Crosland. Now, more people are going to learn about this extraordinary man.”

“But this is what progress looks like sometimes. Slower than we want but moving in the right direction.”

“And this institution that we love, the U.S. military, has grown too.”

“I offer these vignettes, about our history as Americans, not just as black Americans, but all Americans, to recognize that above all, Juneteenth is meant to be a hopeful day. Truly a day to celebrate.”

Crosland concluded with her continued commitment towards equality.

“Like democracy itself, the fight for equality requires eternal vigilance,” she said. “It requires us to revisit our principles, to persevere even when we are tired, to summon our courage and voice when its needed. All of us.”

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Last Updated: June 23, 2023
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