Juneteenth was first recognized and observed as a federal holiday in 2021, but that's not why Ray Gaddis chooses to honor the day.
Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, about two years after it was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.
As the newest federal holiday in America, more citizens are learning of that meaning, but Gaddis has long been aware of Juneteenth history.
"Let’s make this clear: I don’t think Juneteenth was something that was as notably taught to all students in the United States," Gaddis, the FC Cincinnati defender and Major League Soccer veteran, said. "I was fortunate to have some teachers, and some minority teachers, at a young age that introduced me not only to the Juneteenth historical event but other events that have taken place... It's vital. As a nation, and for myself, we need to know where we come from and see the progression that’s taken place. But we also need to see that there is other history than what is taught."
Gaddis, an executive board member of Major League Soccer's Black Players for Change, is using his years of awareness and further research to help spread information on Juneteenth on a broad scale.
Gaddis spoke to The Enquirer Thursday about his role in promoting Juneteenth's relevance to Black culture in the U.S., just prior to a roundtable call with U.S. Soccer to help inform international players about the meaning of the holiday.
"It’s so essential to know that we are free now and we’ve come so far, especially in the African American background and culture," Gaddis said. "Freedom might have been delayed, but it wasn’t denied."
In some ways, Gaddis messaging around Juneteenth is just an extension of his efforts in helping FC Cincinnati maintain a presence in the city's West End neighborhood, which is where TQL Stadium is located.
Gaddis, who said he's still educating himself on West End history, has aided the club's outreach efforts in the neighborhood.
Gaddis is involved with multiple initiatives focused on the West End, some of which have been initiated through FC Cincinnati while others have been pursued through organizations like Bigger Than Sneakers, which will stage its annual SneakerBall event Aug. 5.
Gaddis' objectives are unified across all the programming he's involved with, and Juneteenth is a vital piece of his messaging, particularly when June 19 approaches on his busy calendar.
“I think it’s been vital that they (in the West End) understand that FC Cincinnati has some representation, someone with a similar background to them," Gaddis said. "I’ve been able to advocate for the club and insert myself in the community and introducing the beautiful game of soccer. Everybody’s not gonna play basketball, football but now this gives them a sense of pride to take ownership of this team and feel like it’s their team as much as any other consumer of FC Cincinnati."
In Ohio, Juneteenth was publicly observed Monday, one day following the June 19 anniversary.