It's crazy when I think that I first heard of Juneteenth during my sophomore year of college. I was looking for easy electives to not only boost my GPA but would not require much since my science course load was heavy. Everyone told me that this African Studies class would be a breeze. It was in fact a breeze but not because it was easy but the scope of the assignments had me intrigued. We discussed in-depth the passage of the slave ships from Africa, Kwanzaa, Juneteenth and a few other important facts that are discussed no where is “American” History.
With the country unrest, everyone is trying to find ways to continue to unite us as we strive for equity in this country. So many have open their eyes to the fact that the Black community has repeated been failed in this country. Celebrating Juneteenth this year has an extra special feeling!
What is Juneteenth?
The Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order to end slavery, was signed on January 1, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. This message did not reach Texas until two and a half years later. Union General Granger arrived in Texas and proclaimed that all slaves were free and history has taught us that a celebration was had.
June 19, 1865 marks the date that the final slaves were “officially” freed. This Free-ish date is celebrated as “Freedom” or “Emancipation” Day. The Emancipation Proclamation really only freed the slaves in states that under Union control. Slave owners in other states had no interest in relinquishing their ownership and were ultimately forced to do so.
How to Celebrate Juneteenth
History has taught us that there was a celebration once the slaves learned that they were free. Some danced, others left their tools and ran off the plantations, many praised God but it is where jubilation or jubilee originated in the black culture. Red is symbolic of the celebration so you will see lots of red and/or African prints along with red colored food. Red represents that blood and resiliency of the enslaved. Red velvet cake has been a staple in my family for years but this year we decided to buy red velvet bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes in Collegeville, PA (Black Female Owned)
Cake does not have to be the only thing on your Juneteenth menu, you can make it as simple or elaborate as you like. Think hot dogs, watermelon, berries, or your favorite soul food. You can dress up as many of our ancestors did or just adorn your favorite clothing that signifies the culture. Prepare yourself for praying, singing, and lots of dancing.
Educate Yourself and Others
Juneteenth is the perfect opportunity to learn more about black culture. There are plenty of books available for all ages to start the conversation in addition to videos. Check out the conversation below with Dr. Aaron X. Smith, the Rapping Professor.
Attend Community Events
Cities across the United States are hosting events both in person and virtually. Find one that allows you to connect with like minded people. People that are ready to make a difference. Don't be concerned if this is your first time celebrating. I want to encourage you to bring someone else along to experience it. In Norristown, PA there is an event at Oak Street park complete with Free Food, Vendors, Music and a place to register to vote.
Use Your Voice
Get active in what is happening in your community but using your voice to effect change. That means voting in every election whether local or national, you can also write letters to elected officials letting them know your view points on various topics that affect the Black community. My family and I have been protesting daily since the death of George Floyd. The protesting has resulted in a sit down with local officials. During the interview with Dr. Aaron X Smith, the Rapping Professor, we discussed how Juneteenth is representative of the delayed justice that we continue to experience today. Be committed to the cause and use your voices until we ensure equity for all because history has shown that just because it has been stated doesn't mean it will change the lives of the people.
Another simple way to use your voice is to speak out against injustices. Always remember it starts with you. If your family members use inappropriate messaging correct them, speak out when your ‘friends” are wronged only because of the color of their skin.
Where is Juneteenth a holiday?
There are 47 states including the District of Columbia that recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance. There has also been a national call to make it a federal holiday. Congress has not approved a national holiday since Martin Luther King Day in 1983. Representatives from both parties want to see that change and will introduce a bipartisan bill to make June 19 a federal holiday. Here again is where our voices can be used to effect change. National companies are also championing this effort and have declared Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees. Best Buy, National Football League (NFL), Nike and Target released statements to show solidarity much like on #BlackOutTuesday.
Show Your Support of Juneteenth
It is extremely important that we continue the course and transition from moments to movements. There is great work to be done in the areas of education and legislation around Juneteenth. Collectively there are steps that we can take now.
- Continue to amplify melanin voices.
- Listen to understand and not to speak
- Support Black Owned Businesses
- Show yourself an ally and not a savior
- Remember that Juneteenth is not Black History but American history
How will you observe Juneteenth?