Juneteenth Celebration

Our annual Juneteenth celebration was a big success thanks to organizer Debra Jeffreys-Glass, food bosses, Diana Lyon and Kevin Walter, and teenage readers, Arianna, Isabella, Lucy, Sam, Eddie, Tony and Leo.

Here is Debra’s eloquent introduction to the event.

Over the past several weeks I was scouring the papers and reading articles to come up with an idea or a theme to share with you today in answer to the question that we ask each year: why celebrate?

I noticed that there was some discussion in the press recently about whether or not Independence Day is a day for formerly enslaved people to celebrate. I think it is – Juneteenth serves as that day of independence and it deserves to be honored and acknowledged. June 19th, July 5th – whatever day – every day is a day to celebrate who we are and how far we’ve come.

For me, it seems to come down to the idea of celebrating making the “impossible” possible.

Juneteenth highlights that we have a history as a people of building communities and building networks and pushing back against impossibilities by focusing on the possible and moving on from there. In 1865, it might have seemed unthinkable to those folks in Galveston that they would find family who was sent god-knows-where – but – they looked. Near and far, they traveled to find their people. And if they didn’t find them, they made families and communities with those who were kindred spirits – if not kin by blood – and this is how communities were and continue to be built from possibility.

We celebrate the fact that – despite political and structural forces that were put in place and have been perpetuated for a shameful amount of time, African Heritage people have embodied the words that Arianna shared in this afternoon’s tribute to Maya Angelou – and I’m paraphrasing – “Black people have, throughout our time here, not merely survived, but thrived, with passion, compassion, humor, and most definitely style.”

Celebrating possibilities. That’s why we do this every year. To recognize that as a people – despite having had so much taken away– name, freedom, history, family, self-determination – we are here and we are still standing, making the impossible happen. We do this with allies, with friends, with those who recognize that standing shoulder to shoulder, everything that was and is accomplished is a result of the belief in what is possible.

Going back to the question of why celebrate – I came across an article by a young playwright and author from Detroit named Charday Ward – and she was grappling with the question of whether it makes sense for Black folks to recognize the American independence day, And what she came to was this:

“I am America because we, Black Americans, weave colorful threads of culture, history , and experiences into this multi-colored, multi-cultured tapestry that we call ‘The Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave.’”

Her words pay tribute to Langston Hughes as he once wrote:

I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When company comes. Nobody’ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” Then. Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed— I, too, am America.

Happy Juneteenth.

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