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Juneteenth: What It Is and Why It’s Celebrated [Podcast]

Posted June 14, 2022 by Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi & Iriel Hopkins

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi & Iriel Hopkins discuss Juneteenth and its importance.

Featured Guests:

Yoleetah Ilodi, MD
Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi grew up in Northeast Ohio and attended the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She completed her residency at Summa Health System Akron Campus. In 2012, she completed a fellowship in geriatric medicine and practice in geriatric medicine. Dr. Ilodi now also serves as the physician lead for recruitment and inclusion in Summa Health Medical Education. She is also Assistant Dean of Diversity at NEOMED. 

Iriel Hopkins, MSW, LSW
Iriel Hopkins joined Summa Health in 2019 as the System Director of Community Relations and Diversity. During her time she has implemented many initiatives including but not limited to updating the cultural awareness mandatory employee education, securing grants for COVID education and vaccinations and partnering with local organization such as the Greater Akron Chamber, University of Akron, City of Akron and more.


Scott Webb: Juneteenth or June 19th is an important day in American history as it celebrates the day in 1865 when all Americans were finally free. And joining me today to tell us about this American holiday and how the day is honored and celebrated by Summa Health and the Akron community is Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi. She's the physician lead for Recruitment and Inclusion in Medical Education and Assistant Dean of Diversity for NEOMED. And I'm also joined by Iriel Hopkins. She's Assistant Director, Community Relations and Diversity with Summa Health.

This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. So I want to thank you both for joining me today. We're going to have a really important conversation about Juneteenth and Summa Health's commitment to diversity and inclusion. So, Dr. Ilodi, I'm going to start with you What is Juneteenth?

Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi: Juneteenth, also known as June 19th is a now federal holiday as of 2021, where we celebrate the last of the enslaved to be freed in Galveston, Texas. So June 19th 1865, union soldiers finally made their way after two and a half years after the emancipation proclamation was declared to abolish slavery. However, because Texas wasn't a big battle state, those slaves did not know. So it was not until June 19th, 1865, where the union soldiers finally got into Galveston, Texas and were able to read the emancipation proclamation, and those slaves were freed.

Iriel Hopkins: And if I could build on that, Juneteenth is also an opportunity to build awareness and knowledge about the history that Dr. Ilodi has mentioned in regards to our country. And so here at Summa, we take pride into celebrating culture, history, raising awareness to make sure everyone celebrates this history and understands just the timeline and the focus and the empowerment that we are all working towards to make sure everyone has equality and that there is equity within our healthcare services.

Scott Webb: Yeah, Iriel, you know, it seems like Juneteenth is something that we've been talking about more and more lately in the recent past. And obviously, we're doing a podcast to sort of educate and spread the word today. Is it your sense that even though it's become a more popular topic to discuss and been in the news and lots of conversations, that African-Americans have really embraced Juneteenth over the years more so than maybe others may have been aware? And if that's true, what is its real significance to African-Americans throughout history?

Iriel Hopkins: Even in our local community, we're starting to see more events, not just in the central community, but in Medina, in North Hill, and so not just African-American in West Akron are celebrating Juneteenth, but we have other cultures and other neighborhoods. And that's all a part of raising awareness. And for us, always as a community, understanding the history of not only one group of people. But, you know, all of the groups of people that live in Akron. And so, yes, I do see more events. I do see a heightened awareness. I do see pride, more black pride. I do see an intentional focus around economic empowerment in terms of the organizations, the communities, the initiatives that we intentionally support with our dollars, our resources and our time. So, absolutely I think the George Floyd murder was an eye-opener to a lot of big corporations about how they can support not only through economic resources, but how do you give your time and how do you provide a platform and an atmosphere for your employees to learn and grow their awareness of other cultures?

Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi: Thank you so much for asking that. So it is actually one of the oldest holidays that black Americans or African-Americans have celebrated. And it started again in Texas where it was widely celebrated in Texas. And I believe again, that this country, being built on the declaration of independence, that all men are created equal and free, that was not the case until 1865, June 19th. And so really it's not a black holiday or African American holiday, it's a holiday for everyone to celebrate the actual trueness of the declaration of independence. Now, what the country has truly been built on is an honest account.

Scott Webb: That's such a perfect way to put that. It's not necessarily a black holiday or an African-American holiday. It really is an American holiday. It really signifies when they signed the declaration, it really signifies it. It embodies that. It really is the day when everyone was free or freed. So important to get the word out and talk about Summa Health's commitment and so on. Doctor, stay with you. When we think about the day and how to celebrate it or how to frame it or how to teach it, why is it important to recognize the day and, in your mind, how best can we share the experiences of African-Americans? How best can we teach, you know, children about the importance of Juneteenth and so on?

Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi: I love these questions. It starts with everybody understanding the history and learning the history. We don't want to have a fantasy of what has happened in this country, because therefore we can't learn from it. So if everybody, just like you take the time to read, you know, a Yahoo! Article or Apple article, take the time to read on what happened in 1865, the proclamation in 1863 and understand the importance of how that did set Americans -- Yes, black Americans, but it set Americans free -- it set all Americans free, because I think that when you enslave people, you enslave yourself and you're bound by that shame, you're bound by that tragedy, that devastation that you have done to a whole 'nother group of people. So I think it's set Americans free. And I think that celebrating that and acknowledging that in whatever way you would like to. Some things that we do, our kids, we write poems, read books. We visit families, whatever that looks like. I know there's several things that are going on around the city. There are a lot of things that folks can do to acknowledge the holiday. But I think the biggest way you can acknowledge and recognize the holiday is understanding that it's an American holiday and to educate yourself and to say, "This happened. I'm not going to sugar coat it, but what can I do better to move forward?"

Iriel Hopkins: I would add to that awesome response. Some things that corporations and hospitals and large organizations can do, for example, is building that awareness. So Summa is sending out a memo from our CEO acknowledging the holiday, giving an update of where we stand, where Summa stands with our community plan. And then also, we have three events that we will be supporting, participating in around community. And those events focus on fellowship, awareness, black economic empowerment. So a lot of black-owned businesses will be there for others to support. And so, again, as Dr. Ilodi said, it's the intentionality around educating yourself and then helping bring awareness through whatever platform that you may have in your organization or with your peers. And then it's attending things that's outside of your comfort zone, as it relates to different events or different movies. Again, just immersing yourself in a different culture to broaden your awareness and your understanding.

So those are some of the steps that Summa is taking with the memo, with making sure on our social media, that we're acknowledging, making sure that we're at and we have a presence and we're participating and we're supporting local events, that we're also, again, making sure that we acknowledge it throughout our system.

Scott Webb: Yeah, it's one of these sort of interesting days, interesting holidays, right? As doctor was saying, like, we have to own our history, right? We have to acknowledge it. We have to own it. We have to try to learn from it. And of course, we also want to celebrate it as a day worth celebrating. And Summa and everybody, you know, in the Akron community, really doing their part to do that.

Doctor, I wanted to give last word to you today. When we think about Juneteenth, the messaging we want to get across and what folks can do, because people may be listening and wondering what can I do, you know, to be a part of this, to acknowledge the day, to celebrate the day, to spread the word, what would be your advice?

Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi: My advice to learn of course is to pick up a book, to read an article, to educate yourself. I personally enjoy reading books. But if that's not the way, read an article, that takes two minutes. Take time to learn about this nation's history. This is not black history. This is the nation's history and it is important to know about it. It is important to celebrate it, because of the resiliency and how far that, despite such tragedy, how far black Americans, African-Americans have come. And so that's why we celebrate it because a lot of people, a lot of our ancestors, I mean, they died to get us to where both Mrs. Hopkins and myself, where we're at today. So we want to celebrate that because there were long battles fought for this. It was treacherous. It was unimaginable the things that our ancestors had to go through. And now, we are not finished, but we are certainly uplifted and in a better place. And so that's why we celebrate. And that's why we continue to educate.

Scott Webb: That's a perfect way to put that, you know, and of course we've only covered the broad strokes here. And as you say, however people like to learn things, whether that's reading books or articles or TikToks, whatever it might be, we want everyone to educate themselves on Juneteenth, to be a part of the celebration, to understand that we're really celebrating American history, not just African-American history. So thank you for being on. Thank you for helping us. Thank you for educating us. And you both stay well.

Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi: Thank you.

Iriel Hopkins: Thank you.

Scott Webb
: For more information on Summa Health's commitment to diversity and inclusion, visit

Host: And if you found this podcast to be helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the full podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.


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