For me, last year’s Juneteenth Celebration at Franklin Park here in Boston was the best. A city park filled with happy black friends, colleagues, and families all enjoying the moment of good weather, good friends, and definitely good barbecue. This annual celebration took place every third Saturday in June from early morning where you staked out your location till the evening when the charcoal embers smolder from the sizzle of the grill.
So Much Fun In Franklin Park
In addition to the families who turned out in the 2019 sunshine, many local, state, and national organizations proudly set up tables, stands, and entire corners of the park to display their emblems, symbols, logos, and signage in full recognition of Juneteenth’s real meaning…freedom for all in a joyous celebration. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, founded 107 years ago on the campus of Howard University. I am from a family of Deltas, including my sister in law, an older daughter, cousin, and my late mother. Last Juneteenth, I hung out with my Delta sisters, who proudly pitched a red and white tent at the Franklin Park celebration. And we were not alone! We were surrounded by the other black sororities and fraternities, including Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho, Iota Phi Theta.
Those were just the black Greek-letter organizations present at last year’s Juneteenth Celebration. We were also joined by the NAACP, Urban League, Nation of Islam, various church groups, political campaigns, and healthcare advocacy organizations. I invited two of my clients to attend so that they could see the black community's interconnection in a unified celebration of harmony and happiness. My clients saw how they could proactively build a relationship with multiple groups and constituencies within an arm’s reach of their headquarters.
There were no speeches, no planned programs, no political debate. Just plain ol’ fun, with soul, hip hop, R&B, dance musicand the electric slide blasting everywhere.
It was beautiful. It was Juneteenth 2019.
An Alternative To June 19, 1997
And it was a soothing way for me to block out June 19, 1997 the date I buried my 17-year-old son who had died in a single-occupant car crash that year days after graduating from high school.
Now I think of Juneteenth differently this year, where social distancing and an angry virus have robbed residents and citizens around the country from holding picnics or parades in commemoration of Juneteenth. We know this year there are large gatherings of peaceful protesters marching to restore dignity and safety in the black community following the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, D. J. Henry, Sandra Bland and far too many more. And we also know that Black Lives Matter is not just a catchy slogan by progressive liberals. It’s become a new “call to action” mounted on signs and placards and held by black, white brown, Asian, Arab, English, French, Kenyan, Brazilian, and Jamaican faces all over the world!
History of Juneteenth
The historic proclamation announced on a balcony by Union Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 that ALL slaves throughout America were free. The announcement was made in Galveston, Texas, because selfish white Texas plantation owners kept their slaves in bondage long after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. They even held onto their slaves after the last Civil War shot was fired in April 1865. So you can only imagine how astonished those ex-slaves were in Galveston tasting freedom for the first time, nearly 2.5 years after the fact.
It’s that historical reality that has made Juneteenth such a festive celebration throughout the country. Clearly there are other “black holidays and traditions” that have more recognition than Juneteenth. It’s just this year, with the triple pandemic - (1) COVID-19, (2) the teetering economic, and(3) racial strife, Juneteenth came center stage when a racist president picked June 19th to hold his “Make America Great Again” rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The voices of protest pushed back, causing the autocrat to move his political mob scene to the next day, June 20th.
Only the Appetizer
The bottom line is go on and celebrate Juneteenth. Make it a national holiday, take the day off from work, and hold countless socially distanced picnics and discussion in its honor. But don’t make it an end-all. It’s the appetizer in a full course meal that hasn’t even been cooked yet. That seven-course meal must include many more intentional initiatives, policy actions, police lobotomies, and economic course correctors if this country is going to really set sail in a new direction.
So enjoy Juneteenth. But make sure you save room for the remaining six courses that will really take us somewhere into a future guaranteeing justice, economic access, and freedom for all.
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Carole Copeland Thomas is a 27 year speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in global diversity, empowerment, multiculturalism and leadership issues.