Time to celebrate and recommit

A note from Adimika Arthur...

Yesterday was Father’s Day in the United States but it also coincided with Juneteenth, a holiday that was little known to many people until a few years ago but one that I have celebrated my entire life.

My childhood summers were shaped by Juneteenth as the first celebration of the season before the street fairs and fireworks, the quintessential community barbeque that was before the summer solstice.

It was often called “freedom celebration” or marked by the “jubilee” service at church. The food defined the celebration. I have vivid memories of cakes and pies filled with first seasonal fruits of cherries and apples, juicy cobblers filled with stone fruit and hoppin’ john and maque choux made with the early ears of corn. I always heard of this celebration of this special day as a movement, one that “we” have been celebrating since “back when”.

I am glad to see Juneteenth is finally getting the recognition it deserves as historically and culturally significant. A day for Black Americans to celebrate the freedom of formerly enslaved peoples after the Civil War. The first shift in power that took over two years to move from myth to somewhat reality. For some, it is regarded as the start of broken promises by the government but the reckoning that Black people were free from chattel slavery.

The story goes, in 1865 on the 19th of June, news of the end of slavery finally reached Galveston, Texas, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This date is seen by many as the true end of slavery in America. For myself and my family, this day has always symbolized a time for celebration but also a time of reflection and for all of us to recommit to the fight for justice and liberation.

As this celebration of hard-won freedom makes its way into the mainstream, let's be sure that we continue to reckon with the history of American Slavery, honor the Black freedom fighters and allies of all backgrounds who brought its end, and maintain the integrity of Juneteenth as a Black self-determined celebration.

Last year, Congress passed a resolution to make Juneteenth a national holiday, a federal holiday nonetheless.

Some called it reactionary as a post George Floyd sentiment. Some called it “too-little-too-late”.  Some businesses and merchants have already started the exploiting and commercialization of the holiday.

But pioneering Black women elected leaders took on the fight and never wavered in their dedication to get Juneteenth nationally recognized that we can honor this day as a nation — not just the Black community. For us, it has been our 4th of July celebration and to recognize or even acknowledge the many expressions of lack of “freedom” that progressed in the decades and generations (some occurring today) like including but not limited to black codes, sharecropping, oppression, lynchings, mass murders, exploitation, systemic racism, gerrymandering, Jim Crow, redlining, medical apartheid, war on drugs and housing crisis.

Juneteenth is a day of celebration, but it's also a day that demands we confront the darkest moments in our nation's history. A chapter that was born in the ugliness of slavery, and despite the progress made, much of that ugliness continues to manifest today through systemic racism. The legacy of slavery and systemic racism continues today in our education, healthcare, criminal justice systems, and in the very fabric of American society. It is also at the heart of the crises facing our nation today including police brutality, mass incarceration, the COVID-19 public health crisis, and the crisis of poverty affecting many of our communities, with women of color being affected by these issues more than any other groups.

So let this Juneteenth serve as an inspiration for everything we are fighting to achieve across the country — not just for Black people, but for all Americans.

We still have more to do, but this Juneteenth, let’s galvanize as a community to acknowledge women and the ancestors who have fought for us to get here. Let’s remember we are NOT free of racism. Let’s celebrate our collective freedom fight to end slavery and refuel in love and courage to continue to use that start of our summer season to acknowledge and confront racism.

We can be the solution to this generation curse and have new reasons to celebrate true freedom.