HONOLULU (KHON2) — Former Miss Hawaii USA, Samantha Neyland talks about the importance of celebrating Juneteenth not just in America but also locally here in Hawaii. 

She said when she was first crowned back in 2019 it was a very exciting moment in her life. But things took a drastic turn the following year when the coronavirus started to plague the country with shutdowns, mandatory masking, meetings going hybrid and more. 

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“The pandemic started in March, and then Black Lives Matter happened,” said Neyland. “So, it was June, it was the week of Juneteenth when I learned that we (Hawaii) had not recognized it.”

Neyland said she did her research and realized Hawaii was part of a handful of states that didn’t recognize Juneteenth. So, she made it her mission to change that. 

“It was honestly about this time to two years ago that I decided, okay, I want to do this,” said Neyland. “I publicly announced it in August, (2020) because I wanted to get things going.”

The United States didn’t publicly recognize Juneteenth until June 16, 2021, when it was passed by Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden. 

Neyland said when she was competing for the title of Miss Hawaii USA she ran on the platform for effective communication. She stared a teen program, ‘Time to talk to Hawaii’, which was dedicated to teaching teens effective communication and learning how to build confidence and learn to become confident young adults. 

“I felt like people weren’t communicating with each other very well about what was going on and I thought, you know, education is a huge part of that, if we were all it was all received the same education, if we had the same information, we would know how to communicate better,” said Neyland. “So, to me, recognizing Juneteenth has always been and still is about educating the general public on the true history of our country.”

The history behind Juneteenth is very personal for so many Black people in America. It’s the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and make sure that all enslaved people be freed. 

The federal troops arrived in Galveston two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States. Some historians consider this the longest-running Black / African American holiday. On June 17, 2021, it became an official federal holiday. 

“I myself didn’t know until maybe five years ago, but us passing the law in Hawaii, and then the federal law passed, and it completely changed the amount of people who know what Juneteenth is,” said Neyland. “That in itself is a big win.”

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Neyland said her hard work and advocating paid off because a few days before Juneteenth was declared a Federal Holiday Hawaii Governor David Ige held a press conference to sign five bills into law, one of them recognized Juneteenth Day in Hawaii as a day of observance.