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Woodlands High School Students Provide Youth Perspective to Liberation in Greenburgh’s Community Celebration of Juneteenth

Next Iteration of Liberation / on this day of remembrance / i'm glad to stand with no hindrance / celebrating freedom / isn't something to flee from / because on that day in 1865 / people were brought into the light / their 400 year fight / was finally ended within their sight, recited Michaela Webb, a Woodlands High School junior, at the annual Greenburgh Community Juneteenth Celebration on June 21st. 

Michaela and classmates Cidney Bien-Aime and Saintcom Chauvette were chosen by Woodlands 2023 NYS History Teacher of the Year Mandel Holland to recite original and personal orations at the community celebration that reflect the new iteration of liberation. “This year, the Greenburgh Town Council asked to have our students represented in the Juneteenth celebration,” said Mr. Holland. “So much of this day is centered around the past, but these students are presently living in their skin in today’s world. How black youth is experiencing the world now is much different than it was in decades past. They give voice to what freedom looks like in 2024.”

The inclusion of Woodlands students’ participation in the Juneteenth celebration was the idea of Greenburgh Councilwoman Gina Jackson, a Woodlands High School alumna. Ms. Jackson contacted Mr. Holland - a former WHS classmate - to help facilitate. “Greenburgh students are an integral part of the fabric of our community,” said Ms. Jackson. “In a district like ours, where culture and diversity are celebrated every day in our schools, I thought it was important to bring their reflections into the light and to have them shared with the larger community.”

Understanding that each of his students has their own voice, Mr. Holland guided them to create an oration that felt connected and authentic. “I wanted them to write from their own experiences through the lens of progress, liberation, and freedom,” said Mr. Holland. Cidney’s oration was a revelation about insufficient progress that came from a recent hospital internship. “I believe there is a real lack of black women in the medical field, or, when you think about it, in many high-achieving professions. Looking at the statistics, in the United States only 5% of doctors are black, 2.8% being black women. As I am writing this, I feel a sense of motivation. These percentages are pushing me forward to be one of the women in this generation to become a part of the medical field. I am hoping that I am not the only one and that in the future, I can see this statistic jump higher than anyone’s expectations,” she wrote. 

Saitcom’s oration was inspired by a quote from Malcolm X quote about how progress can only result from healing wounds. “As an African American, freedom means battling the history of institutional oppression and relentlessly pursuing equality and justice. It is about living free of racial violence and having equal access to school, work, and housing possibilities. Freedom allows me to proudly show my culture and identity while also empowering me to push for change,” he said. “For me, freedom means not just the absence of physical shackles, but also the presence of true social, economic, and political equality. It is the right to be heard and respected in all aspects of society, ensuring that future generations inherit a world that treats everyone equally.”