SALT LAKE CITY — For more than 30 years, Betty Sawyer has pushed for Juneteenth to be observed on a federal and local level.
“It’s extremely exciting to see something that you work on come to fruition in your lifetime because a lot of times change takes a very long time," she said.
The President of Ogden's NAACP chapter and Director of Project Success Coalition says her work is not done; she is still reaching out to local companies about why they should put emancipation day on the calendar.
“Black history is everybody's history," she said. "It's American history, it's world history, and so it's important that we embrace this holidays as we would any other.”
The state’s largest employer, the University of Utah, is giving its more than 20,000 employees the day off next Monday.
“It's important, as a flagship, for us to also demonstrate our commitment in celebration," said Mary Ann Villarreal, Vice President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. "At this point, to become much more of an educative partner in helping, in guiding folks to understand what is Juneteenth, its significance and its impact.”
The U of U is just one of Utah’s large employers giving employees the day off on Monday, but not every county in the state is totally on board with the new holiday.
In a meeting last night, the Emery County School Board voted not to observe Juneteenth for the next school year, fully aware they might take some heat for the decision.
“When civil rights day came about, our district was one that was slower to adopt this," said one school board member.
Sawyer wishes it wasn’t a question of whether to celebrate or not to celebrate.
“We equate this with another independence day, because when the first independence day was declared, it did not include us," she said.
She encourages everyone in Utah to come out and celebrate with their communities this weekend.