Hey APWers, Jareesa here!
I hope you’ve all had an amazing, productive week.
Today is June 19th, aka Juneteenth, which is the greatest holiday you’ve probably never heard of. Way back in January 1863, during the Civil War, President Lincoln wrote a little thing called the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved persons in the Confederacy. However, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas did not learn that they’d gained their freedom until June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. Those newly freed people began to gather each June 19th, to commemorate their freedom and fellowship with their community. While Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas, Black migration has taken these traditions across the United States, and it’s common to find Juneteenth celebrations happening in both large metro areas and small towns alike.
For most Black folks, Juneteenth is our Independence Day. When the Declaration of Independence was written on July 4, 1776, enslaved Africans were not considered people. We were denied the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” that Jefferson wrote of. The Fourth of July is often a bittersweet holiday for us, because while we enjoy a good BBQ and fireworks show, we cannot forget that Independence Day did not result in independence for our ancestors. Juneteenth is our time to celebrate our release from enslavement and honor our ancestors who suffered through chattel slavery. It’s an opportunity to come together as a community and celebrate US—our resilience, our history, our beauty, our talent, our connection, our love for each other, and more. At most Juneteenth celebrations it will feel like a big family reunion, with plenty of food, good music, games for the kids, etc. Bigger celebrations even have parades and pageants!
This year’s Juneteenth celebrations are even more important, because as a community we need the opportunity to come together. The senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, David McAtee, and now Rayshard Brooks—all at the hands of police—has caused immeasurable pain and sparked protests across the country. We are a community in mourning, but we also need a moment to celebrate our history and how far we’ve come.
This year, Juneteenth is being celebrated in an unprecedented way. Juneteenth is a holiday in 46 US states, but for the first time, many employers—from small businesses to major corporations—are observing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for their employees. My employer is one of them, and I’m extremely excited to see Juneteenth added to the list of company holidays. Even if you don’t have the day off, you can find Juneteenth celebrations happening in your area, both on Friday but also on Saturday.
While Juneteenth is often a joyous moment, it’s also a time to give back to the community and continue to fight against injustice. While chattel slavery may be abolished, slavery through the prison system is still alive and well, and disproportionally impacts Black men and women. Flint still doesn’t have clean water. Police brutality is a very real danger for every Black person in America. We’re still fighting for equality and equal rights, more than 150 years after the end of slavery in the US.
I hope you and your family get an opportunity to do something to acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth, not only this year, but in the future as well. Whether you’re volunteering, participating in a rally, or participating in a Juneteenth festival, I hope you enjoy it and continue to be an ally to the Black community.