The Sutter Health Community Reflects on Juneteenth
Jun 17, 2023
Sutter Health
June Teenth Day of Freedom


Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. By the late 1800s, widespread celebrations sprang up across Texas within the Black community to commemorate the day though many would see the delay as a symbol for ongoing resistance and systemic racism. Slowly, over time, the observance of Juneteenth as Emancipation Day spread across America, passed down from one generation to the next. The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act officially became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021.

Juneteenth has become a cherished time of celebration among many in the Black community, and a moment of reflection to not repeat the ills of our history. The Vitals team reached out to Sutter healthcare workers to learn more about what the holiday means to them and how they plan to honor the day. In addition to their reflections, featured below, please watch this video created by our Sutter Solano Inclusion Council.

Dineen Greer, M.D., program director, Sutter Family Medicine Residency Program in Sacramento

Dr. Dineen Greer

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

What Juneteenth means to me is a time to reflect back on our history and how important it is in the Black and African American community. To have a time to celebrate our heritage, to celebrate what’s happened over the years, but also to look forward and look to what needs to come next. The journey’s not finished, so it’s a time of looking back, but also looking forward.

Melody Powell, Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Sutter Health

Melody Powell

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth is a special observance for me. It connects me to the past and inspires me toward the good the future holds for all of us. Understanding our past allows us to live in our truth and go forward with strength, honor and pride. I’m so glad Juneteenth is being shared with everyone—it reminds us that the U.S. is a work in progress and working together we can only get better and better.

Dennis Deas

Dennis Deas, VP, Enterprise Transformation/Sutter Improvement System, Sutter Health

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

 My favorite quote is from the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama:

Can you share a favorite family memory/tradition/celebration to honor Juneteenth?

A favorite family tradition is to get all family members together in New Jersey for a day of sharing food, giving blessings to each other for still being here as well as those who no longer are with us, and discussing how we can keep rising up to make the world a better place.

How will you celebrate Juneteenth this year?

This year, my wife and daughters will do volunteer work with the “Rise Against Hunger” program to pack and send food to developing countries.

Charlene Jones, Patient Access Associate II, Sutter Health

Charlene Jones

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Growing up in Marysville, Juneteenth celebrations were part of every June for us. I didn’t realize that everybody didn’t know about Juneteenth. It was just part of our life.

Juneteenth is important. We should recognize it and be aware of the past. It started because freed slaves who didn’t have other family members met every year to find one another and reconnect and share information about others.

I’m touched by the thought of our ancestors having those lost family members, the children who were taken from them. Juneteenth commemorates Black people acknowledging what they went through and what we survived.

It warmed my heart (in 2020) when Sutter recognized Juneteenth, a celebration that my family has participated in since I was a small girl. I thought it was awesome, and I’m grateful that Sutter has acknowledged it. So much of Black history is overlooked in the United States.

Charlene’s family history

Charlene Jones and her father

Charlene’s father, Charlie Johnson, is originally from Texas. He’s been celebrating Juneteenth all his life, and with other family members, he brought the tradition to California with him long ago.

Her mother is white, and on that side of her family, Charlene is able to trace her family tree back several centuries. Her father’s side goes back only a few generations, to a great-great-grandmother who was born in slavery. Her name was Zet Walton.

That’s all we know. It’s all the information we have about her. Many Black Americans can’t trace their family histories, because we were listed as property on official records, with no names or date of birth.

How will you celebrate Juneteenth this year?

This year, as with most years, we help plan a community event at a park in Marysville. My husband provides music and sound system for young performers. There is usually food and other vendors. We bring blankets and chairs and have a fun time with our community neighbors.

LaShaun Parker, MBA, CPHQ, LSSGB; Clinical Effectiveness Consultant III and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council Co-Chair, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

LaShaun J. Parker

Juneteenth is very significant in that it represents a moment in time where all of my ancestors were all aware that they were no longer slaves to be considered pieces of property instead, the human beings that they were.

Can you share a favorite family memory/tradition/celebration to honor Juneteenth?

A favorite family memory that I have honoring Juneteenth is from when I was living in Houston, TX. Everyone would celebrate Juneteenth by having barbecues and all family and friends coming together. The menus consisted of watermelon, red soda and red velvet cake, as these are traditional foods that are eaten to celebrate and commemorate the moment.

How will you celebrate Juneteenth this year?

My plans to celebrate Juneteenth this year consist of participating in the Hayward Juneteenth Celebration on June 15th with my Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. We will be registering people to vote and educating them on voting rights as well as providing connections for needed services. On Sunday, June 18th I will be partnering with Sutter Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council and our ABSMC African American/Black Inclusion Network Group where we will have a booth set up to provide free HIV testing, blood pressure checks and information surrounding Black Maternal Health and stroke awareness. Lastly, on Monday, June 19th I will be attending a virtual Teams meeting celebration hosted by our ABSMC African American/Black Inclusion Network from 10a – 11a in addition to passing out red velvet cupcakes to the staff at all three campuses that morning.

Tony Sillemon, Psy.D., MBA, MSW; Director, Community Health, Sutter Health

What Juneteenth means to you?

Dr. Tony Sillemon

Juneteenth means family. It’s a day to celebrate being a proud African American man that cherishes my independence, equality, and freedom. This is a day I reflect on the past struggles without getting angry and celebrate how far we have become as black people. It’s also a chance to bring unity, stop hate, advocate, and spread love.

Can you share a favorite family memory/tradition/celebration to honor Juneteenth?

 I am one of 15 siblings. My favorite Juneteenth family memory was when I was 11 years old my parents took the entire family to a park in our neighborhood where we BBQed, played games, listened to good music, which came with a dancing contest between me and my siblings, and lots of laughter and communication. It was just a day of joy, peace, and calm. Now that both my parents have passed, it’s a memory I’ll never forget. I carry this tradition on with my own family and kids.

Can you share any plans to celebrate Juneteenth this year?

 This year I am celebrating my Juneteenth with my family and job. I will be promoting and sharing the importance of health equity. This includes HIV testing and offering education on all health issues that affect the Black community. As the chair of our Alta Bates Summit Medical Center Diversity Equity Inclusions Council (DEI), I am blessed to be given the opportunity to advocate and break down stigma and mistrust of the medical community. Health =Life =Equality. 

Recognizing Juneteenth in the Hospital 

In honor of #JuneteenthWeek, the ABSMC Birth Equity Committee delivered flowers and cards to Black mothers and birthing people in the perinatal unit. Sutter’s ABSMC is one of only four hospital sites in California piloting a comprehensive initiative, led by the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, that ultimately will develop a birth equity quality improvement toolkit for use in hospitals statewide to standardize and promote best practices in maternal care.

Dr. Pavithra Venkat

Pavithra Venkat, M.D., FACOG, Administrative Medical Director, Women and Infants, ABSMC

Can you tell us about the Birth Equity Committee’s plans to honor Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is another opportunity for us to connect with our Black mothers, as we did during Black Maternal Health Week. We’re planning on giving postcards and flowers and thanking those mothers who chose to deliver at our hospital for entrusting us with their care.

Dr. Angelyn Thomas

Angelyn Thomas, M.D., FACOG, Obstetrics & Gynecology Physician, Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Birth Equity Committee, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center

VIDEO: ‘We value you, your baby and your family’

In this video, Angelyn Thomas, M.D.,  shares her experience delivering flowers to a patient last year during Juneteenth and how a simple act of kindness can make a big difference for patients.


Above, Patient Ryan Gillam and her partner William Taylor celebrate their new baby, Royal, with flowers from the team.

Above, Iremar Bodell, RN, Angelyn Thomas, M.D., and Latasha Befford, Labor & Delivery, ABSMC – Ashby Campus

Above, Iremar Bodell, RN, Emily Lloyd, RN, and Nakia Wallace, RN, Nursing staff, ABSMC – Ashby Campus

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