Juneteenth celebrations provide chance for reflection, growth following difficult year
Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Tatyana Tandanpolie
June 15, 2021
For African Americans across the country, Juneteenth marks a jubilant period of celebratory cookouts and get-togethers under the summer sun. But after more than a year of social-distancing, cancelled gatherings and a nationwide reckoning with racism and police violence, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin said this year’s holiday is even more important to Black communities in Columbus.
“What we’ve learned — what the last year has done — has challenged all of us to be a part of the movement, that we are in a moment of time where we can call to dig deeper, and to really do some of the work of healing some of the sins of our forefathers,” Hardin, 34, said.
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“Juneteenth is a great opportunity for all of us, regardless of our skin color, to reflect and see what our role is in making our city more equitable for all residents, especially our Black and brown brothers and sisters.”
Juneteenth bittersweet for Black Americans
With nation-felt triumphs — the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020 — and community-felt tragedies — the killings of Casey Goodson, Andre Hill and Ma’Khia Bryant at the hands of police — the Freedom Day celebrations will be bittersweet for Black Americans in Columbus.
An impromptu dance party started at Goodale Park for the “Light and Love BBQ” Juneteenth celebration last year.
In the face of those tragedies, Columbus Urban League President Stephanie Hightower said, Juneteenth brings hope that African Americans will be free from the “perceived or real oppressive state” that they feel they’re in. Hardin and Hightower said that the holiday gives the community the chance to reflect on those losses and grow.
“I think as a community it continues to make us stronger…,” Hightower, 62, said. “This is our opportunity to rebuild our culture and our community by having a celebration like Juneteenth and really honoring it in a significant way.”
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Kiara Yakita, 32, the president and founder of grassroots organization Black Liberation Movement Central Ohio, said that the day allows Black Americans to honor their identity, culture and ancestry on a grand scale.
“Juneteenth represents the emancipation of our enslaved African ancestors, so this is more than a holiday to us, this is the beginning of the second chapter of our legacy, this is our holiday,” she said.Juneteenth: ‘Bask in that sunshine after we’ve been in the storm’
That chapter began in 1863 with the signing of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved African Americans in Confederate states. But their freedom was not immediate. Slavery continued in Texas for an additional 2½ years after the proclamation.
On June 19, 1865, federal troops, led by General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state had been freed. The holiday, dubbed Juneteenth by those newly freed Black Americans, marks the official end of slavery in the United States.
To Yakita, Juneteenth is significant because it allows her to recognize, commemorate and venerate those enslaved ancestors and derive the strength she needs to lead Black Liberation Movement protests and rallies. Following a year of trauma for Black communities in America, she and Hightower said that it’s especially important to observe and celebrate Freedom Day.
“When Black people go through things, it doesn’t always shut us down. Sometimes it makes us celebrate even more,” Yakita said. “We have to relish and bask in that sunshine after we’ve been in the storm for so long.
“So that’s why it’s important that we have our cookouts, we have our get-togethers, we have our family reunions. There’s always a balance. We spent most of last year just sitting in our tragedies, and so I feel it’s important this summer that we create space for healing and joy.”
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Hardin agreed. He said that Juneteenth gives all Americans the chance to “acknowledge our shared history” and reflect both on how far America and Columbus’ strives toward racial equality have progressed and how far that each has to go in addressing inequalities.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of African American Independence, and it’s important that we as a community, as a city, as a Black community, but really all of us pause to reflect on how far we’ve come, but also to recommit ourselves to the work of greater movement for the African American community,” he said. “Be that financially, around safety and reform and building better relationships; be that around opportunity and access.”
Those who don’t know much about Juneteenth, Hightower said, should “go and learn” it’s history and importance to African Americans to participate in conversations and promote racial reconciliation. Juneteenth celebrations happening around Columbus this year, like Yakita and the Black Liberation Movement Central Ohio’s Juneteenth Jubilee, provide a space for those central Ohioans to learn on their own and celebrate alongside Black community members.
They also connect eventgoers with valuable resources and Black-owned businesses to support. Black Liberation Movement’s Jubilee plans to administer COVID vaccines through Equitas Health and has more than 20 other vendors and performers slated to appear.
About 100 people march from City Hall, around the Statehouse to Goodale Park, as part of the “Light and Love BBQ” in 2020.
“I think it’s important that we take time to attend things like this and realize that we are loved on a community level and that there are people who are willing to put in that work to do something to make us feel special,” Yakita said, “especially during a time where we feel hated.”
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