Celebrating Juneteenth: Honoring History And Taking Action

mindfulness 

By Selina Armstrong

Celebrating Juneteenth: Honoring History AND Taking Action

As I sit to write this post about Juneteenth, I find myself living in an “AND” moment.  Over the past year and a half, a close-knit group of friends (who have been an integral part of my support system this year) and I have come to refer to “AND” moments quite frequently. They are those moments where the juxtaposition of varying emotions comes to a head and you are left feeling joy AND sorrow, happiness AND anger, excitement AND anxiousness, relaxed AND tense. 

The starkest “AND” moments I remember feeling over the past year or so were the anger, sadness and rage I felt witnessing George Floyd’s life being taken away in front of our eyes AND the pride I felt witnessing people all over the world come together to protest this injustice and demand change. During the Derrick Chauvin trial, I held my breath as the guilty verdict was handed down experiencing an overwhelming feeling of joy AND an equally overwhelming feeling of sorrow that I felt like I had to hold my breath as the jury deliberated. 

These “AND” moments exist in our everyday lives in our relationships to ourselves and to others.  As a parent, I live in the space of loving my children to no end AND wanting a break from them. As a black woman, I live in the space of being proud of my heritage and the black excellence that has literally built this country AND being exhausted living through the lens of dominant culture. 

This year as more and more companies and states begin to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees (Google even added it to Google Calendar), I am excited about the company's “wokeness” and enlightenment AND skeptical of the real commitment to actual change. I felt a sense of honor in being able to write about this pivotal moment in history AND a sense of overwhelm that I may not be able to do it justice. 

Whether you are just hearing about Juneteenth for the first time or you have been celebrating for years, one thing for sure is this year people will have more ways to celebrate than ever before. Celebrations are popping up in communities all over the country to honor the day, June 19,1865, when enslaved people in Texas learned that freedom was granted as a result of the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it took two and a half years for this information to reach Texas. Of course, this does not mean that all of a sudden things were great and equal for enslaved people living in Texas or in the new “free” country. Texas landowners wanted another harvest so it would be an additional two months after the announcement before enslaved people in Texas were actually free. 

The legendary group “The Roots” produced this re-enactment of the end of slavery for the show “Black-ish” which aired the entire episode about Juneteenth back in 2017. In the episode, the Johnson family decided, as many of us may be doing today, that we don’t have to wait for others to celebrate something that is important to us. We can start these traditions within our own homes and families. You can see more clips from the episode here.  

If you are looking for ways to begin to celebrate Juneteenth and incorporate it into your family’s rituals or ways to enhance what you are already doing, here are seven ideas: 

1. Sign this petition to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday. Opal Lee, known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, a 94-year-old woman in Houston, TX is leading the charge on this. Her spark and smile are such an amazing example of Black excellence and she leaves an indelible impression on all that meet her. The Senate approved the bill this past Tuesday and it will now go to the House of Representatives. *Edited to add: The bill was passed and Juneteenth is now a federal holiday! Read more here

2. Research: We have access to a wealth of information at our fingertips. Begin by doing your own research upfront instead of relying on others to educate you. Here is a link to get you started. Here is a great list of children’s books related to Juneteenth.

3. Celebrate and share stories of Black joy and Black excellence. Did you know that Simone Biles just won her 7th National Gymnastics Title and that Naomi Osaka took a stance to put her well-being and mental health first by withdrawing from the French Open! Black Girl Magic in full effect!

4. Support Black-Owned Businesses. Don’t know where to start? Here are some apps that can help.

5. Advocate: If your organization or company has not joined the other 850+ companies that have added Juneteenth as a paid holiday, here are ways you can begin that conversation to help that become a reality.

6. Participate in a Juneteenth event in your area. There are many communities, neighborhoods, and cities that will be having Juneteenth celebrations this year so join in!

7. Recognize that while the celebration of Juneteenth is a step towards a more just world, we still have work to do and it is up to all of us to do our part.     

Juneteenth is important for the larger narrative around justice and equality. It is not just Black History, it is American History. I plan to take time this weekend to lean into any “AND” moments I may experience as I celebrate Juneteenth with my family and the larger community as a whole.  

•  •  •

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