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The Importance of Freedom: To Be or Not To Be Free

a smiling African American woman smiling and looking into the distance

Songs can be heard, dancing can be seen, and good food (like fried fish, barbeque, potato salad, collard greens, cornbread, and red velvet cake, topped off by strawberry soda) can be enjoyed. What’s the occasion for such a wonderful celebration in June you ask? Why it’s Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday.

Commemorating the End of Slavery in America for Our Ancestors

Juneteenth represents an important day in our Nation’s history. On June 19, 1865, the news finally got to Galveston, Texas, that all slaves were free. It took two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the word to travel that far, since, at the time, Texas was still a Confederate state that had not yet been occupied by Union forces.

Juneteenth, therefore, commemorates the day that the news of freedom finally reached the last enslaved people in the U.S. It is a day of remembrance and celebration for Black Americans, who mark the occasion with parades, barbecues, and other festivities. It is also a day for reflection on the ongoing struggle for racial justice and equality.

Discovering the Personal Significance of Juneteenth

Texas was the first official state to declare Juneteenth a holiday in 1980, thanks to the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. Growing up in Texas, I can remember when the residue of segregation still lurked in our school system, at my first job as a teenager, and even in grocery stores. Juneteenth was not something openly taught in school or recognized with a day off. It was not until I joined the military and went to college that I learned about the significance of Juneteenth.

The holiday has since gained widespread recognition, as more people come to understand its significance. Almost every state has made June 19 a state or ceremonial holiday. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Taking Action to Remember and Celebrate Those Lost to Racism

While today is a day of celebration, it is also a reminder that our commitment to advancing racial justice must remain resolute. The legacy of slavery and its dehumanizing effects have persisted long after its formal abolition. Black people have continued to face discrimination and marginalization in many aspects of American society, from employment to housing to the criminal justice system.

Now as a part of this day, prayers go up for the Black folks and youth who have lost their lives to senseless gun violence. Whether it was at the hands of police officers, amongst one another, or accidentally being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Names like Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbury, Tyree Nichols, and countless other Black people are remembered and celebrated.

Remaining Steadfast in Building a Stronger Community for Future Generations

As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us celebrate our freedoms and pledge to create a more just and equitable society. This is the time to speak out about our experiences, hopes, and dreams. It is also an opportunity to recognize the need for psychological safety in our communities, where all people feel heard and valued. Regardless of our race, we all have a role to play in working to break down stereotypes and biases, listening to and empathizing with each other, and fostering an environment of inclusivity and belonging.

We can all contribute to creating psychological safety by being mindful of our words and actions, avoiding assumptions about others, and treating everyone with respect and kindness. We can learn from one another and seek out diverse perspectives.

Join me in a commitment to learning more. Let us ask questions, read books, and learn from one another.

Better yet, get involved. Seek out opportunities in your community, at work, school, or places of worship. Together, we can create a better future and be positive role models for others.

Let us all say “Yes, we all can!” and dedicate ourselves to taking action for a brighter future.

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