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Roswell Park employee leaders highlight the meaning behind Juneteenth 

Nearly 160 years after news of the national prohibition of slavery finally reached enslaved African Americans in Texas in June 1865, the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center team will come together for a day of celebration and reflection.

While this year’s Roswell Park Juneteenth event is open only to Roswell Park employees and patients due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the team organizing the celebration is seizing this moment as an opportunity for education and coming together.

“This will be our biggest Juneteenth celebration ever,” says Myia Cheatom, Special Events Program Manager for the African American Roswell Employee Network (AREN), an employee engagement group at the cancer center whose mission is to improve quality of life for all African Americans within the community. “Juneteenth is about my ancestors’ history and it is important to educate others on what it is and why it means so much to our culture.”

These AREN members embrace the opportunity to share the history and resonance of Juneteenth with Roswell Park patients and team members.

“Juneteenth should serve as a reminder that it’s up to all of us to be part of the solution, for all of us to celebrate the holiday regardless of whether you identify as Black,” says Candy Doyle, Executive Secretary for Roswell Park’s Department of Internal Medicine and Executive Secretary, Communications Specialist of AREN. “It’s a call to action and it’s more important than ever because we’re still working toward racial and economic justice in this country as a whole. Just because slavery has been abolished, it doesn’t mean the work to end systematic racism is done.”

One of AREN’s focuses is to highlight the progressively diverse and inclusive environment within Roswell Park and to support employees in all aspects of their culture, historical significance and societal relevancy. Throughout the year, Roswell Park hosts heritage and cultural celebrations to promote and highlight the diversity of the employees and staff within the center.

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Carl Thomas, Chief Organizational and Community Liaison for the cancer center and Vice President of AREN, has been with Roswell Park for more than 40 years and has seen the changes happening around cultural heritage and celebrations both inside the center and across the Buffalo area.

“It is important for Roswell Park as a community of people to acknowledge the heritage of the people who work here and their cultural history,” he says.

“It’s extremely important to me to know my employer cares about what matters to me most and my well-being,” adds Cheatom.

Roswell Park’s Juneteenth celebration on June 17 starts at 11 a.m. and will feature dance and drumming by performers from the African American Cultural Center, poetry readings, a live onsite broadcast from WUFO-FM Power 96.5, and comments from AREN members as well as Roswell Park President and CEO Candace S. Johnson, PhD, who will raise the Juneteenth flag during the event. 

While this year’s event will be only for Roswell Park employees, the organizers say it sends a strong message to the community at large that all are welcome, accepted and celebrated.

In celebration of Juneteenth, Roswell Park is also creating a video highlighting historic sites along the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, to be shared on platforms including social media.

“I cannot wait to see how we’re going to grow together and be bigger and stronger and better,” Doyle says. “Roswell Park is going to help the community and remain a beacon.”