Juneteenth isn’t a celebration of the freedom that exists in our bodies and spirits, it is an acknowledgment and honoring of our striving towards it. Celebrate black flourishing, always.
Just at the onset of the summer of 2020, one morning I experienced Jhanae being more emotional than usual. She wasn’t irritant, just tender. I asked questions and joked but her laugh and smile both seemed to be buried beneath a burden. We’d been attending scattered protests near downtown Tampa during this time. A lot of which were emotionally overbearing— one ended up in us being caught and walking in the rain. I could tell that some things were heavy for her because of how she began reacting to the national news updates. Anything that moves our hearts this way should always be leaned into.
We dug deep enough to find what eventually brought her to tears. After gently probing, she told me, solemnly, “It just seems like everybody keeps dying.” 2020 only presented itself in one way. A way that nobody wanted to remember. But Jhanae was right; so many people were dying.
Ahmaud Arbery was killed on February 23rd, 2020, while blamelessly jogging. Breonna Taylor was murdered while asleep in her home during a botched police raid on March 13th– a day before my birthday. George Floyd was lynched on May 25th and buried on June 9th. Freedom has always come at the expense of black bodies. Our selfhoods have continually been the offering for this country’s blessing.
On May 30th, 2020, the ripple effect of civil unrest stirred the activists in the belly of the City of Tampa. The serenity of Memorial Day was paused for an interlude filled with violence and scattered uproar across the nation. Anger was translated to action, and riots both revived and shattered parts of the city. But there were moments in which Tampa’s compliance with some of this country’s practices became evident.
A protest is a cry. A riot is what a protest fears having to one day become.
Juneteenth is a celebration for many. But for others, a day we walk into emotionless and with a distrustful stare. We are still aware of a freedom we haven’t fully seized. We are not completely free in body and politics. Not in thought and faculty; nor in art and creativity. This isn’t a freedom of “will,” but rather, one of full expression without the expectation of repulse or being avoided. As well as expression free from manipulation and monopolization. In June of last year, Texas approved legislation that advised how teachers facilitated conversations around current events and disallowed students to receive credit for participating in civic activities. Bondage has both plagued and nourished this country's marred body.
We are not liberated so long as we are still bound and restricted by America’s unbending politics and socio-political framework that impede any element of our autonomy. PEN America is a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression and revealed that 39 states introduced over 160 bills in the past year limiting what schools can teach about race, American history, sexual orientation, and gender identity. If there is freedom to be had, there is subjugation to be under. Liberation is no wild animal we catch and release; but is one we seek and walk in, as it becomes us.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. The 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States except as a means of punishment, was ratified in 1865. Juneteenth became a state holiday in 1980 and a federal holiday in 2021. May 15th, of this year, 10 black people were slain, innocently, in a supermarket during an act of hate. We have been singing our hymn of freedom for lifetimes. As I got older, I realized why black church songs were so long as a child. There was so much pain to both cry and praise God for.
Freedom is beautiful. Freedom was cool before white people endorsed our demand for it. It was cool before July 4th, 1775. Before Walmart used it as a pawn for the capitalism that they, and other companies, bask in. Freedom is not Juneteenth; and June 19th of 1865, even in all that it did and meant, was not the culmination of black existence. At best, it is now symbolism. A gesture worth acknowledging. But we celebrate, always, through a lifelong continuation of resistance.
As long as slavery is a possibility, freedom is still that which we long for.
Juneteenth isn’t a celebration of the freedom that exists in our bodies and spirits, it is an acknowledgment and honoring of our striving towards it. Celebrate black flourishing, always. No matter where within the diaspora your roots trace to. Be black and modish; fight to both love and resist. But reflect and remember the lives that can’t celebrate with us; whose deaths remind us we are not free. Nae went on to plan the entire day for us on Juneteenth in 2020. She wanted to celebrate, so that's what we did, without reserve. That afternoon we got massages and had lunch then were invited to a gathering at her cousin’s home. We created our own rest and did this all in the name of her passion for acknowledging that day. The death of those around us moved her. This moment was the prologue for the summer a lot of us experienced that year, and my soul held tightly to the memory.
Allow your heart to feel so deeply that its passion might bring you to tears, just as Jhanae’s did.
Written by: Jaykwon Hosey