Juneteenth: A day on, not a day off

"What can I do?"

The question looms more urgently than ever.

Recent events have reawakened Americans to the tragedy of long-suffered racial injustice. And as the University of Cincinnati marks Juneteenth — a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans at the end of the Civil War — alumni and donors rightly wonder: What can I do?

Justin Gibson headshot

Justin Gibson, Business '05

Justin Gibson, Business ’05, Program Director of Alumni and Donor Experience, Diversity and Inclusion, and Corin Manning, ’24, an Information Technology major and MBA candidate, have an answer: Support scholarships and program that empower students of color to attend UC, stay enrolled and graduate on-time, like the Darwin T. Turner Scholars Program. A holistic, life-changing program for underrepresented students at UC, Gibson was a Turner Scholar, and Manning is one today.

“The Turner Scholars Program is much more than a traditional scholarship," Gibson says. "It is a family, an ecosystem where students and staff meet regularly and do professional development but also check on each other personally. The years I spent as a Turner Scholar — all of it completely enriched my life.”

Says Manning: “I really feel like a lot of kids would not be where they are today without Turner, and that includes me. The support they offer really is unmatched. I was a part of several mentorship programs before college, but nothing compares to Turner. I always feel covered by Turner, whether I’m on or off campus, because even through the pandemic, they have ensured we are OK.”

Corin Manning headshot

Corin Manning, Business '24

Manning, who is frequently the only woman or person of color in her IT classes, has found her second “home” in the Turner experience. With other Turner Scholars, she has volunteered at a soup kitchen, performed neighborhood clean-ups, packed food bags and visited the Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The Turner Program’s investments in promising students ripple out in other ways. With Turner’s support, Manning serves as a role model for other women of color who are considering a career in IT. “Just being in the room and opening the doors can help others come along,” Manning says. “I feel like what I’m really doing is helping people in whatever way possible.”

Gibson says he can never repay “the experience, tutelage, help and support” that Turner Scholars gave him. But by making his own donation to the program, he says, “I know that I can help another student like myself — or even unlike myself — have a similar if not better experience than I did. And that’s because I can see the direct economic impact that my gift can make to provide a grant, fund a program or provide a scholarship to a student in need. Not only do I get personal comfort from that, I also think it’s my responsibility.” 

Supporting underrepresented Bearcats

UC places a priority on diversity initiatives, which also include the African American Cultural Resource Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center and Ethnic Programs and Services. “The University offers this suite of resources for students who are looking to find their home within the university,” Gibson says. “After graduating, many students who came from marginalized communities will point to one of these centers and say, 'This is the office that got me through, that charted my path from being a wide-eyed, intimidated student to being a confident, well-prepared graduate.'"

Juneteenth: A day on, not a day off

For Gibson, Juneteenth is a bittersweet occasion. “My mind’s eye takes me back to that time when my ancestors get the news that they are going to be free,” he says. “They’re very excited but also skeptical. You can imagine them picking up what very little they had and just walking off. They would be nervous: Is this really happening? Am I going to be pulled right back? And the bitter part is that while one institution ended, another — Jim Crow — began. We’re still seeing vestiges of Jim Crow today.”

While many Black families and individuals have long celebrated Juneteenth, Gibson notes that the occasion really “became part of the American social-political lexicon” last year around the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. As a result, many businesses and institutions, including UC, are doing more to acknowledge this poignant point in history. Gibson hopes that the occasion sparks conversation while providing UC alumni, friends and donors with an opportunity to support programs and scholarships that positively affect students of color. In short, Gibson envisions Juneteenth as “a day on, not a day off.”

Make an impact by supporting students

At UC, part of our mission is to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion thrive. One way to do that is by giving to programs and scholarships which support UC students of color. As we look ahead to Juneteenth, the annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, you can join other Bearcats in empowering UC students from underrepresented populations.

Manning invites donors to help “bring more kids who need support to UC,” while thanking donors for “believing in us and what we can do.”

A gift, Gibson stresses, should come “from the kindness of your heart” and needn’t be a king’s ransom. To alumni, he says, “If you had a positive experience, this is the absolute best time to come back home and re-engage and give whatever you have so that other students are also able to have that positive experience. And if you did not have a favorable experience, this is also the best time to make that investment and join a team of people working to improve the student experience at UC. By making that initial gift, you are demonstrating what’s important to you and enabling UC to use these funds to change the lives of students of color.”

For information about supporting underrepresented students at UC, contact Jaime Bitzenhofer, Director of Annual Giving.

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