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  • Writer's pictureMs. Benita Eldridge

Southern Tier Life: Lessons Learned

Elmira Teacher Uses Patience and Empathy to Further Understanding of New Holiday

On June 19, Juneteenth, I went to the Horseheads post office to check a mailbox. A man walked in with a box of letters, thinking that the Post Office was open. He was baffled as to how to go about this task without the help of a postal worker. A minute later, a woman walked in and wondered why the post office was closed. When the gentleman told her that it was Juneteenth, she asked, “What is this Juneteenth?” She then made a statement about hearing about July 4th as a federal holiday but not June 19th.

Upon hearing this, my mindset became defensive. But I told myself to “Hold your peace!” My other thought was, “Excuse me! You don’t see a Black person here?!?” I waited for a break in the conversation and patiently, like a teacher, I explained the reason that Juneteenth is celebrated and that it is a federal holiday as well as a state holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It is celebrated on the anniversary of the date Major General Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom for enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. It is a time for remembering freedom from slavery and disenfranchisement.

The lady’s face brightened, and she said, “Thank you! I didn’t know that. I learned something today. I am retired so every day is the same.”

As I exited the post office, the lady and her husband were in their car. They had smiles on their faces and both of them waved at me. This story, fortunately, has a successful ending!

As a child of a mother who was from the South, I have grown up hearing the stories of those who were mistreated due to being Black. My mom’s hometown is Pulaski, TN, where the Ku Klux Klan was formed. I remember seeing a plaque on the wall of a business there that stated this information. For so many, being a minority of any sort is not easy.

It is difficult not to become defensive when conversations such as these arise. The one word that keeps me from being overcome by rage is ‘imago dei’ which means ‘image of God’. I try to remember that we are made in the image of God. He doesn’t make mistakes, He is good, and we are all worthy of His love! If we remember this, we will do better as human beings who are created by Him and for Him!

About this Feature

Southern Tier Life's Lessons Learned is a feature that invites educators from the region to share about their teaching experience. If you're interested in contributing to this feature, please email for details.


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