Juneteenth at the National Charter Schools Conference

June was a busy travel month for Thinking Nation. On any given day, a Thinking Nation team member could have been in any of the three time zones across the continental U.S. While July has its own business, its lack of travel allows us to reflect a little on June. 

Our last blog featured Tiana Day’s experience at the Black Minds Matter Summit in Washington DC. The very next weekend, she and other Thinking Nation team members were in Austin, Texas for the National Charter Schools Conference. NCSC is the largest gathering of charter schools and their stakeholders each year, and it is always an exciting thing to be a part of.

This year, the National Alliance for Charter Schools reached out to Thinking Nation to help coordinate a Juneteenth celebration, given that the conference fell on the national holiday. Excitedly, we brainstormed several ways to commemorate and celebrate this profound holiday of freedom. In past years on Juneteenth, our blog addressed why this newest national holiday must be seen as America’s holiday and not merely a celebration for Black Americans. We also took a dive into Annette Gordon-Reed’s moving memoir-meets-monograph, On Juneteenth. Today’s reflective post covers how we were able to celebrate Juneteenth in Austin!

The top 3 student art pieces and the judges at the pop up exhibit in Austin, TX.

Tiana orchestrated a nationwide student art competition, which she named “Liberation in the Lens of Artivism.” Thinking Nation provided a historical analysis activity to go with the contest, and our friends at the National Liberty Museum provided students with an artwork analysis activity. The top student submissions were featured at the National Charter Schools Conference, and the National Alliance for Charter Schools generously sponsored the cash prizes for the top three students in the contest.

Our first and third place winners came from Mastery East Camden Middle School in Camden, NJ. East Camden is a part of the Mastery Schools network, with schools in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. Our 2nd place winner came from Stella High Charter Academy in Los Angeles, CA. SHCA is a part of Bright Star Schools. All of the student art work was inspiring. The National Alliance for Charter Schools really showcased the student work in the pop up exhibit.

One of the components of Black Minds Matter’s exhibit “We are Self-Determined.”

We were also able to incorporate the expertise of some of our new friends into building out a pop up exhibit for the attendees of NCSC. Black Minds Matter provided a compelling history of education freedom for Black communities throughout American history, demonstrating a link between the freedom from slavery recognized in Juneteenth to the freedom to receive an education shown in the ingenuity of Black communities both past and present. The Black Minds Matter exhibit contained inspiring videos of movers and shakers showcasing the inspiring work of Black school founders since the 19th century.

Go support the National Juneteenth Museum!

Lastly, we were able to highlight the work of the forthcoming National Juneteenth Museum, which is set to open to the public in 2025 in Fort Worth, TX. NJM provided attendees with an origin story of the holiday, as well as its future plans to commemorate it as a museum. I am so excited to go to the museum when it opens!

It was truly an honor to work with such talented people to make the exhibit a reality for conference attendees. Just to reemphasize the collaborative nature of this project, I want to end with thanking all of the hands that went into what attendees engaged with. The Juneteenth exhibit would never have happened if it weren’t for the generosity of the National Alliance for Charter Schools and their trust in Thinking Nation for organizing the exhibit.

The art contest would have never got off the ground if it weren’t for Tiana, her own nonprofit, Youth Advocates for Change, and the dedicated artists that judged the contest. The students could not have engaged with the art effectively if it wasn’t for the scaffolds created by the National Liberty Museum. The holiday could not have been contextualized without the National Juneteenth Museum. Lastly, if it weren’t for Black Minds Matter, attendees would not have been able to see the direct connection of Juneteenth to education freedom, the premise that guides charter schools in their daily work. We were so grateful to be a part of this! Till Boston in 2024!

The rest of the winners for the student art contest.