What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans after the Civil War. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the last of enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Depending on your identity and lived experience, your awareness and understanding of Juneteenth may vary. For some of us, our families and communities may have been celebrating Juneteenth for generations. For others of us, our awareness of Juneteenth might be fairly new. 

Juneteenth was not included in most of our history books and is not yet a national holiday. This year we wanted to highlight Juneteenth and bring attention to this important holiday that centers the Black/African American experience. To help us unpack, understand, and celebrate Juneteenth this year, we interviewed one of our AMAZEworks consultants, Richard Webb, founder of Second Layer Consulting. With humility and transparency, we honor his story and perspective. Here’s what Richard had to say:

 

What has been your history of celebrating Juneteenth as a Black American?

Richard: I didn’t have the history in my home growing up – and so my experience of celebrating Junetten is minimal. Growing up in Iowa, I wasn’t aware of Juneteenth until I was a teenager. I did not grow up in an environment where there was specific communication around it. It wasn’t something I learned about in my school or home community. There wasn’t a presence commemorating Black historical events or American historical events such as Juneteenth. 

 

How did your experience begin to change as you grew older?

Richard: My experience was more tokenized at the undergrad level. Even within the Black Student Union, there wasn’t a huge emphasis. I didn’t gain a deeper understanding until I moved from Iowa to Minnesota, where I learned more about ways communities were coming together to observe Juneteenth. I observed, attended, and celebrated at local events, such as the Freedom Celebrations at Theo Wirth Park. However, I ended up pausing my interaction because of violence that broke out. The events seemed to me to be more of a social gathering than it was to celebrate and raise Black consciousness.

 

What is your experience of Juneteenth like today?

Richard: Today it is important for me to be more serious and reflective in my own space. My celebration is more of an individual introspective experience, specifically within the last 5 years. I’m noticing now, particularly the experience around the murder of George Floyd, industries want to celebrate Juneteenth. To be honest, it feels more like tokenization or appropriation because I don’t see it driving systemic change. The emergence of different TV shows communicating the history around the Tulsa Massacre, such as Lovecraft Country, have touchpoints that jog my consciousness and hopefully the consciousness of others. 

 

What will you do from here? 

Richard: From here I’d like to be more intentional about external observation (and celebration) of Juneteenth. Internally, I want to read more, watch more, and do service as a person that develops and works with race, equity, etc. And I also want to engage in self-care so that what I put out in the world can be more reflective. At some point, I want to create opportunities for teachable moments, such as cookouts and teaching events, combining food and community to learn and grow together.

 

What advice do you have for those of us who want to engage, observe, and celebrate Juneteenth? 

Richard: Have intentional conversations, which is a debate I have with myself around Black fatigue. But be intentional with your activity, create a habit of supporting Black businesses, purchasing Black art, and listening to Black music, such as this Juneteenth playlist. Lean in. Be intentional about learning about history, experiencing history, and creating a different legacy for yourself and others. 

You can start by listening to this and noticing what it brings out in you: 

Lift Every Voice and Sing – Kirk Franklin, Song by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea

 

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

Let us march on till victory is won

 

Stony the road we trod

Bitter the chastening rod

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died

Yet with a steady beat

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

 

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered

Out from the gloomy past

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

 

God of our weary years

God of our silent tears

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way

Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light

Keep us forever in the path, we pray

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee

 

Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee

Shadowed beneath Thy hand

May we forever stand

True to our God

True to our native land

Our native land

Source: Musixmatch, Songwriters: R.m. Carter / J.r. Johnson / J.w. Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing lyrics © Edward B Marks Music Company, Marks Edward B. Music Corp., Glorysound, A Div. Of Shawnee Press, Inc.

Thank you, Richard, for sharing your story, perspective, and reflections with us!

 

Minnesota Juneteenth Resources

If you are interested in digging deeper into the history and celebration of Juneteenth, here are some local Minnesota Resources curated and provided by our AMAZEworks colleague and consultant Vanessa Steele: 

 (This is not an exhaustive list.)

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