Juneteenth and Our Continued Fight for Justice

On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 250,000 Black Americans were freed in Galveston, Texas. Since June 2021, the United States has recognized Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday. Policy is often personal and this rings especially true for us as Black Americans who recognize Juneteenth as our Freedom Day. Celebrations range from backyard cookouts and church services to parades and festivals. However, Juneteenth stretches far beyond a one-day celebration; it’s a demonstration of Black Americans’ meaningful presence in this country and the continued fight for our freedom. To quote Toni Morrison, “The history of the place of Black people in this country is so varied, complex and beautiful. And impactful.” 

Without acknowledging our history, we are left without the meaningful conversations recognizing the institutional struggle that Black Americans experience. It desensitizes us from understanding why equity is important for the future of this country and how the fight is far from over.  

Juneteenth would not have been recognized federally without diligent community organizing across the United States. Countrywide protests denounced the institutionalized police violence against Black Americans as seen through countless murders, including those of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. As we've been approaching Juneteenth, I’ve listened to my family members and friends in Georgia who plan to celebrate but who also worry about the current political attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion across the state’s education system. The purposeful erasure of history in schools completely undermines the impact that recognizing oppression makes on the lives of all Americans. 

Recently, new rules were made by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission that passed a policy that deeply impacts Georgia’s public education system by requiring educators to ban “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” from their curriculum. These bans are a part of attacks from policymakers that aim to combat “woke culture” by stopping schools from encouraging “diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives”. Advocates who oppose these changes argue that erasing this vocabulary silences the voices of those who don’t fit into this country's systematic binaries. 

Moving forward, it’s essential that we elect folks who embody the diversity of their communities’ backgrounds and experiences. To accomplish this, it’s crucial we show up to these Juneteenth celebrations, encouraging our neighbors and loved ones to show up at the ballot box in every local and national election. Celebrating Juneteenth means continuing these essential conversations, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all sectors of our society, including government, workplaces, and schools. Celebrating Juneteenth means uplifting Black Americans’ complex, yet beautiful and impactful history. 

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