Juneteenth: Celebrating Black Liberation and Opening Up the Conversation

The majority of America celebrates July 4 as Independence Day. But what is the Fourth of July to the enslaved Black American?

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This was the question posed by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852 before the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. Like many present-day Black Americans, Douglass challenged the notion that independence could not exist in a country where Black people still experienced inequality and injustice at every level.  

2021, and there’s still much work to be done. For this reason, many Black communities celebrate Independence Day on June 19, more formerly known as Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 where more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas were made aware of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier in 1863.

Unfortunately, because many enslavers chose to maintain the labor force on farms and plantations, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederate Army commander General Robert E. Lee resigned and Union General Gordon Granger took command of the District of Texas — that the enslaved learned their independence was actually granted. Granger put forth action to see Lincoln’s order through. Because of this, this day has become symbolic of the liberation of Black Americans. Although it has not been celebrated as a national holiday – and only just became recognized as a federal holiday – Black people have and will always consider the annual event as a moment to reclaim their joy and reflect on the lived experiences of their ancestors. 

 

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It’s important for us to take a step back to reflect during moments in life and in history when we’re reminded of the realities of the world. We’re excited to share the perspectives of a few of our employees as they reflect on their own experiences with Juneteenth.

Q: What does Juneteenth represent for you as an individual?

Aurélie: As a national holiday, I’d like people to take it as an opportunity to rewind and question everything they’ve learned about it in the past. People can become more aware of what happened since Juneteenth and reflect on what’s the current state of equality in this country.  A time to also acknowledge white privilege. A day that is not only about facts from the past but ultimately what are the first actions and small steps we can each take at this moment in society. 

Ciara: Juneteenth to me, is a day to reflect on our nation’s history, a day to celebrate Black lives and voices, a day to acknowledge, remember, learn, and take action – just as we have a responsibility to do everyday. 

Lauren: This Juneteenth finds me in a deep state of reflection. While on paper it’s meant to “celebrate” the liberation of my people, I’m personally taking the time to reflect and reclaim. This year specifically, I’m working on reclaiming my joy. There seems to be a ‘ghost’ that continues to haunt us as a collective, and with the devastating toll that COVID-19 had on our world and our community and the countless murders of my Black brothers and sisters, it’s more important now than ever to find your peace. I’m grateful for the sacrifices that were made by my ancestors so that I could see today, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to show up everyday as my very best. 

Torre: Juneteenth represents a time of freedom and salvation. It’s mostly a celebration to the end of years of government sanctioned torture. However, I do not see it as “the end of racism” or the end of Black people’s plight. As for after Juneteenth followed hundreds of years of Jim Crow, discrimination, and segregation. It’s important for Black people especially to celebrate every single win, no matter how small. Juneteenth was a huge win.

Q: Did you learn about Juneteenth in school?

Aurélie: I grew up in Brussels, Belgium, and Juneteenth was never mentioned at school. From what I remember, we learn very few things about American History. It was mostly the involvement of the US in WW1 and WW2. The perception of America is fascinating when growing up in Europe. You have this image of the land of the free, this country where everything is possible for everyone. And they definitely teach you about Christopher Columbus, dressing an evasive but flawless picture of him. But this is another story… Moving to New York 10 years ago and having some close friends being public defenders definitely opened my eyes on the current status of the justice system and systemic racism. The same way we didn’t learn about Juneteenth, we barely learnt about the colonial past of our own home country. Some people in Belgium are currently fighting to change history books in order to add an accurate picture of colonialism and its consequences on European countries.

Ciara: Yes! My high school taught us about Juneteenth. 

Lauren: I can remember learning about Juneteenth, but can’t say that it was ever a huge deal in school growing up. 

Torre: I learned about the actual event itself and perhaps even heard of it once or twice. However, there was never any emphasis on the holiday itself or even how to celebrate it.  

 

Q: Did your family teach you about it growing up?

Aurélie: No, we never talked about it. To be totally honest, I don’t believe my family knew much about it.

Ciara: Yes! I grew up with knowledge about Juneteenth from not only school but my family, especially from my mother. She wanted to ensure we [my sister and I] knew our history and the facts about the celebration.

Lauren: Absolutely! I’m grateful to have grown up in a family full of educators. My maternal grandparents, along with my parents, made sure that my siblings and I knew exactly what and who we came from. I find now as an adult that I naturally crave knowledge and seek out information on my own because it was ingrained in me very early on in my life. I am forever indebted to my family for never allowing me to forget the legacy that precedes me. 

Torre: Not really. The concept of celebrating Juneteenth is still new to everyone in my family so far. We are all trying to figure out how to celebrate which will most likely result in a cookout. It’s fun to think about how we can start forming new traditions around Juneteenth since there aren’t many that are as mainstream as putting up a Christmas tree.

Q: How do you feel about TAKUMI making it a company holiday?

Aurélie: It makes me proud to be part of a team of individuals eager to address important social issues. As corny as it may sound, I believe in the power of changing one person at a time. Same story for social media: I like to think that of one post. 

Ciara: I think it is a great start in the right direction. TAKUMI recognizes the importance of Black voices and making it a company holiday is pivotal. It’s a day to honor the historic pain caused by — and lives lost to — racial inequity and celebrate racial diversity.

Lauren: I’m grateful to be a part of a company that recognizes the importance of moments like this in the world – even when the world doesn’t necessarily recognize them. I look forward to inspiring and creating many more firsts and many more monumental moments with TAKUMI. 

Torre: It’s amazing that we all get to celebrate or even take the time to educate ourselves about the holiday. Juneteenth is a time for celebration and reflection. It’s great that the company understands to give everyone time and to most importantly recognize this moment in history so we shall learn but never forget. 

Q: How can we continue to empower Black voices today and everyday?

Aurélie: The first step in my opinion is to not look away and to deep dive into the current work of social justice activists. Many of them are doing an incredible job on Instagram and provide keys for everyone to help.  Never underestimate the power of sharing some interesting resources on social media: if it can make one person open their eyes on a particular topic or question past actions, it’s a win. One person at a time, slowly but surely.

Ciara: We can continue to empower Black voices today and everyday by doing something consistently throughout the year and not just for that given day or time frame. This could mean locally, nationally, and internationally. One can always work with small businesses, entrepreneurs, and Black owned businesses throughout the year. 

Lauren: Let me start by saying that hope and strength is ingrained in the Black identity. We’ve had no choice but to operate this way. To supplement this energy, I encourage those that identify as allies to ACT. Support causes that directly impact our communities, speak out even in the smallest of ways, repost on social media… no act is too small. Every “little” thing makes a difference. It is my hope that the next generation lives in a world that we made much better. 

Torre: It doesn’t matter how small but every effort makes a difference. This includes making sure we recommend Black influencers every time we send over a list of potential partners to our clients. Going out of our way to ensure that Black influencers are offered fair and competitive rates for their work as well will make all of the difference in a Black person’s life. 

As the days continue to pass, and the world continues to change it is our hope that we’ll all be inspired to “be the change we wish to see in the world.” 

For more Juneteenth resources, click the link here: https://linktr.ee/TAKUMIresources  

If you would like to guest contribute to our blog, simply drop the team an email and we’ll get back to you hello@takumi.com.