Working. Toiling. Being oppressed and enslaved in Texas in June 1865. More specifically, on June 10, 1865.
In that moment in time, you had no idea what was to come in 9 days, nor that others had been “enjoying” the sweet taste of freedom for almost 900 days.
On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger delivered the news that the Emancipation Proclamation that went into effect January 1, 1863, had indeed freed all enslaved.
Imagine being free…and not getting the memo.
And I put “free” in quotes here.
Fast forward 155 years.
I can honestly admit that I didn’t know about Juneteenth until I was in college. Imagine it – a Northerner who learned of this bittersweet celebration attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a higher institution of learning in the same place a church was bombed and 4 little girls died. I spent 19 years of my life not seeing June as anything more than the month of the end of the school year and the precursor to the turn up on the 4th of July.
It’s like being free and still being enslaved. Having the papers that designate my ability to be without the rights attached to it that allow me to be seen.
Today, it means so much more than the festivals that I have frequented in the last 20 years since my acknowledgement. Starting in 2001, when Juneteenth would come around, it became my tradition to celebrate like I had my first year of college. I made it my business to “buy Black” that weekend, eat “authentic” food and listen to the horns blow in the bands, the blues bellow from the singers and the spirit of “freedom” in the sway of the dancers. After having my daughter, I wanted to continue the tradition, void of the history and meaning. I would take my daughter to festival after festival in different cities, operating on autopilot, being conscious enough to know I needed to be doing something Black that weekend, but not enlightened enough to know why.
Then, last year, something shifted. It wasn’t just my move from Memphis back to Chicago—it was the shift in the atmosphere, a collective energy that moved me from autopilot to manual manipulation of my mindset to see the injustices, inequities and the sheer inequalities that existed for me…still.
I began to seek my own life’s Juneteenth.
And this year, today, it just hits differently.
As I sit in the triad of my essence, being Black, a woman and a mother, it is not just my duty to acknowledge but also to overstand and influence.
This year, there is a separate awakening that complements this holiday, a day that is part celebration and part mourning. A day where I no longer see it as another reason to just spend time with my family in remembrance but to plan for my legacy in preparation.
Void of the festivals and the “noise”, I’m compelled to stand face to face with the reality that we still aren’t free. We’re still fighting. Still working. Still toiling. Still waiting on our General to ride into the land with the message we’ve been praying for.