At this point everyone in America should know what Juneteenth is.
But just in case, it is a celebration of the end of the enslavement of Black people in the Unites States. The last slaves were freed in Galveston Texas on June 19, 1865, ending the most divisive and destructive system our country has ever seen. We celebrate this day because it is vital that everyone understand the implication it has on society. It is vital that everyone understand that when this atrocity ended it truly was only the beginning. The beginning of a fight now several centuries old.
The harsh reality of this nation is a reality that many don’t like to talk about. It is a reality that is often overlooked, downplayed, or even altered. The reality is this country was founded and built its wealth and power off the backs of enslaved Black people. Our status as a nation was cultivated by stealing people, and quite frankly stealing the land that they were brought to.
Now some may say but that’s in the past, what does that have to do with today and right now? I say it has everything to do with it. It impacts everything in America. It impacts economics, education, the legal system. It impacts our families, our neighborhoods, our social interactions, and our workspaces. It impacts opportunities. It impacts access. In short, it impacts our entire lives.
It’s important to note that in the immediate time after slavery ended the outlook for Black people was promising. We had a surge of prosperity for almost 12 years. We made gains politically, economically, socially and academically. But that momentum was short lived as many white people didn’t like Black people having access to the same things they did. As a result, Jim Crow laws were created. An era where we saw Black people treated as second class citizens. In the South we were met with hostility, violence, and legislation actively working against our equality. The spaces where Black people had become self-sufficient in their own wealth and opportunity (Rosewood, Tulsa aka Black Wall Street, etc.) were destroyed in the name of upholding white supremacy. These moments were devastating but still we pushed and persevered. Black people then ushered in the Civil Rights Movement and actively fought for their humanity and liberation. But even after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, creating opportunities for Black people to prosper was and remains challenging. Passing legislation didn’t dismantle the system, it just tweaked it and made us equal on paper, but not in practice.
I like to compare the experience of living in America to running a race. The citizens of America have been running a race since this nation was founded, and white America had a 200+year head start. Every year slavery existed is a year that we were further separated from opportunity. A head start to education and building wealth. A head start to property ownership. A head start to building a family. A head start to general good health and wellness. A head start at being treated with respect and dignity. Ever since the race started Black America has been working to catch up.
That head start created tremendous gaps in equality, opportunity, and the view of one’s humanity. It is why we go so hard for each other. When one of us triumphs and achieves in a manner that is not of the historical narrative, it is celebrated to the highest level. It is why we say Black Excellence, Black Girl Magic, and Black Boy Joy. It is not to diminish the accomplishments of others. It is to acknowledge how extraordinary these triumphs and successes in our community are, because they were never supposed to happen. The system was not designed for us to triumph. But despite everything, we achieved it anyway.
Queer Black writer and activist James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The history of this country is violent, painful, and traumatic. Yet we cannot look away and ignore it. If we are going to end systemic racism and see our country reach its true potential, we must come face to face with the system and dark history that created it. This is our past that has paved the way for our present. Now we must make sure that it doesn’t pave the way for our future. That means doing some serious work. It means doing a continuous self-assessment, being thoughtful, and being empathetic. It means being intentional about seeing color, and acknowledging how it has unfortunately divided us, at the same time acknowledging all it has to offer in bringing us together through the beauty of diversity. In the US and beyond I want us to work towards an environment of equality, equity, and ultimately justice. Equality means ensuring that everyone is supported and has access to the same opportunities. Equity means recognizing that support will need to vary to create equal access to those opportunities for everyone. Justice means removing the barriers that have existed and caused the inequality and inequity in the first place. It means creating a space where everyone feels safe and empowered to be their authentic selves and live their best lives.
So, as we celebrate Juneteenth let’s not let this be the end, but the beginning. The beginning of achieving equality, equity, and justice. And whether we achieve this remains to be seen, but a few things are for sure. It will not always be easy. It will not always be comfortable. But it will always be worth it. Today and everyday let’s commit to a better world. A future of love, a future of healing, a future of action, a future of freedom, a future for all of us. Happy Juneteenth Happy Freedom Day.