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Four Black Social Activists Share What Juneteenth Means To Them

As for this house, we celebrate Juneteenth.

Human Interest

Juneteenth aka Freedom Day aka Emancipation Day aka June 19, 1865, commemorates the actual end of slavery. Contrary to popular belief, July 4, 1776, was not inclusive of all people per America's modus operandi; the 4th of July only represents the day that white male Americans became free. Thanks to social activists and the movement that is Black culture, Juneteenth's history, meaning, and importance have become more prevalent over the past few years.


It wasn't until very recently that I learned that the Statue of Liberty doesn't only represent the strength and resilience of immigrants but was initially created to celebrate the emancipation of slaves. The more I learn about Juneteenth the more I feel an immense duty to celebrate my blackness every day but even more on June 19th. We owe it to General Granger, the Union soldiers, and our ancestors to celebrate the culture and achievements of Black folks because we deserve that. We deserve celebration.

As we continue to live out loud, we thought it was important to share the stories of the women who show up for the culture and fight for freedom from all chains every day. Keep reading for what that looks like for these social justice mavens.

Share the story of how you learned about Juneteenth.

Now that I look back on growing up in the midwest with a household of four generations, our daily life defined how we had overcome so many racial injustices and impacts of slavery. My grandfather migrated to Detroit, Michigan for a job in the factory shortly after becoming an entrepreneur and buying a home in a prestigious Detroit neighborhood where blacks weren't welcome at one point and time. My grandmother worked a good job at the hospital and my mom was the first to go to college in our family. They worked hard and we lived well, with almost every holiday being a really big occasion showcasing our gratitude and how far our family had come with my grandfather sharing stories of how he remembers his grandparents who picked cotton — Juneteenth was an empowering day filled with family traditions in the backyard.

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

When [talking about] slavery, I like to make a conscious effort to look at it with a multi-lens approach rather than just the 400 years America dates it to. Juneteenth is an opportunity to learn, share and express the knowledge and truth of who black people were before slavery, what we went through as slaves, and how we are moving toward the future.

How do you define freedom?

Freedom is the ability to think, do and be with no limits or restraints whether that be physical, mental or emotional. While freedom for my ancestors meant not being a slave and having full citizenship rights, in today's time my generation is facing the challenges of breaking free from a learned limiting mindset to a life of unlimited possibility and purpose.

How are you celebrating Juneteenth this year?

My life's work holds the commitment of being even more intentional about my servant leadership dedicating philanthropic time and efforts to racial disparities of black Americans. Later this year, a national non-profit that I co-founded with an amazing group of leaders will be launching that positively impact black Americans who have been impacted by slavery. Having a direct hand in the impact of racial disparities of wealth that still impacts community, families, and individuals is something that should not be swept under the rug, but confronted in the most honest and transformational way. We are coming to change generations.

Share the story of how you learned about Juneteenth.

I feel like the story of Juneteenth is a story that has always lived with me and has been part of the fabric of my life that has informed my Blackness. I cannot pinpoint when exactly I learned about it. I remember feeling literal jubilee when learning that my people wasted no time once they learned they were free exiting those plantations and casting off the label of chattel.

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth is about ancestral veneration and commemorating the bold act of love that our ancestors exercised in choosing to live and survive under the most horrific circumstances. Juneteenth also reminds me that you truly cannot stop freedom from coming. You cannot stop the freedom train because it is always on time.

How do you define freedom?

Angela Davis teaches us that "freedom is a constant struggle." Which means we must always struggle to keep it, take it, and define it for ourselves. Freedom to me is Black people being free from premature death engineered by racism, Black people being able to love themselves and embody their gender and sexuality as they define them and freedom to access their bodily sovereignty without the fear of state violence or interference. Black people being free to access the full range of their emotions, rest, and joy while having all of their basic needs met and not feeling like they must be excellent to matter. This freedom cannot happen unless our indigenous kin gets their lands back and figure out how to stop this climate disaster.

How are you celebrating Juneteenth this year?

I will journal, tend to my altar, meditate on freedom, and share the love with the Black people in my life.

"Juneteenth is a time for all Black people situated in these United States never to forget that we are miracles. We were not meant to survive, and yet here we are. We must not ever forget that no Black person is free until we are all free."

Juneteenth being in Pride Month is also an invitation for all Black people to never forget about our queer, transgender, and non-binary kin whose freedom is also bound up with our collective Black freedom. There were queer folks on the plantation and those slave ships. It's all of us or none of us.

Share the story of how you learned about Juneteenth.

I grew up in New York City, when I was about six or seven, I went to the Juneteenth festival in Harlem with my grandparents. That's when I first learned about Juneteenth. I initially learned about it as a celebration of life. As the years progressed, I was introduced to more of the history and I was able to engage in thoughtful conversations with the elders of my family. My grandparents are "Old World" Harlem, they spent a lot of time when I was a child and even now in their 91 years of living, teaching me and younger members of my family who we are and where we come from.

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth is a reminder that I do not exist alone and I am a reflection of every single one of my ancestors. I like to think of myself as an embodied figure of ghosts. Juneteenth reminds me that I am rooted in their struggles and their joys on a day-to-day basis.

How do you define freedom?

Freedom is waking up every morning and thanking the spirits who cradled me as I slept and who will have my back all day as I fulfill their wildest dreams. Freedom is curiosity; it's the space to be curious about me and this world. Freedom is detangling myself from the racist, sexist, capitalist, and colonized structures of our society that attempt to grip me and hold me down. Freedom is liberation and liberation is an internal experience that cannot be taken away.

How are you celebrating Juneteenth this year?

This probably isn't the most exciting response, but I will celebrate as I celebrate my life every day, by giving thanks to those who came before me and showing myself the utmost respect and care by choosing to rest because I and they deserve it.

Dajai Monae, Social Activist

Courtesy of Dajai Monae

Share the story of how you learned about Juneteenth.

Growing up, I never knew the importance of Juneteenth. I just knew my family and community would celebrate by coming together to barbecue, gather and talk. That was the norm for many years until I was old enough to research on my own. What I thought I knew, just a generic version of the truth, became much greater and important to me. The day enslaved African-Americans learned they were free in the south. This meant free from bondage, free from abuse, free from "ownership". This was also a turn for African-Americans as this moment emphasized achievements and education.

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth inspires me to keep educating my community about the modern-day liberations we deserve as a community. Never forget how far we've come as a community and how far we need to go as a community. Juneteenth is more than barbecuing and gathering, although we deserve it plus more, but it also means celebrating the sacrifices our ancestors took for us to get here.

How do you define freedom?

Some people believe because we're "free" we have "freedom". Freedom for me looks like reparations for my community. Equal opportunity for my community. An equal justice system for my community. Free from the mental chains placed on our black men and boys as they step foot out their doors. Physically free from the harsh sentencing placed on our minority community for small defenses. Freedom comes in many forms, because we are free from the chains does not mean we are truly free in this country.

How are you celebrating Juneteenth this year?

This year is different for me in terms of celebrating because of the pandemic. I usually participate in marches, rallies, and conferences. This year I will educate my community virtually by going live via social media and spreading knowledge to others. Also, go grab some of that barbecue my family loves to make.

Last year and this year there was a spark within grassroots leaders and fighters. It amazed me to see how much attention was brought to an ongoing fight within our community. As a community, let's keep this fight going on and off the streets and remember we have children looking up to us. We must pave the way for them as our ancestors did for us.

Featured image courtesy of Meagan Ward

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