My Challenge to You on Juneteenth

5 Ways to Celebrate in The Era of Covid19

A few years ago, I learned the significance of June 19th in African American history. Not being originally from the United States, it was not something I learned about growing up. After I learned about Juneteenth, I was surprised that not many Americans knew what it was. To me this was preposterous as on the island of Barbados, where I am originally from, we recognize and celebrate when our enslaved ancestors were freed on Emancipation Day, which is August 1st of every year. Naturally then, I assumed that any country where the ancestors of some of its people were enslaved, that recognition and celebration would inevitably take place but alas in America it didn’t.

After I learned about Juneteenth, one thing I did know however was that I wanted to find a way to celebrate it not just by myself but in and with my community. Living in a diverse community on the Southside of Chicago, I was determined that we would celebrate more than just St. Patricks Day. We would also celebrate black culture and in fact Juneteenth. With this in mind, in 2019 then, a friend and I assisted by a group of community members planned our first annual community Juneteenth family festival. An inaugural festival that was well received and celebrated by the community with over 300 people attending. From traditional African drumming circles to storytelling and African dancing, we celebrated not only the end of slavery but the richness and life giving nature of black culture. It was phenomenal.

Fast forward to 2020 when we were forced to cancel our festival because of Covid19. In spite of this however, I am determined to celebrate Juneteenth and I challenge you to do the same. So here are some ways I suggest we can do it in 2020:

  1. Read something- If you aren’t already reading a number of books which in recent weeks have been selling out, I encourage you to do so. Whether it’s How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi or Another Country by James Baldwin, find a good book to read by a black author that empowers and educates.
  2. Watch something- I encourage you to watch shows or movies that celebrate black culture positively. I especially recommend the episode of Blackish that focuses on Juneteenth. Blackish if you have never seen it is family friendly, educational and can provoke great conversations about black culture and race relations in America. In addition to Blackish, there is always Black Panther or the series, Watchmen on HBO which is free this weekend in celebration of Juneteenth.
  3. Teach something- Be sure to impart your knowledge to your family and friends. Juneteenth is the perfect opportunity to have conversations with your kids, family or friends about the history of America, its current state and, as well, to embark upon inspirational dialogues about the potential for a better, more equitable future for all.
  4. Do something- It’s hard to do much with Covid19 still lurking. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do any big celebrating for Juneteenth as we are not out of danger with Covid19. Yet,there are opportunities to do simple deeds that still recognize the occasion. So for example, paint a sign with your kids that say Black Lives Matter, organize a virtual celebration with others, do a good deed for a neighbor, write a letter to an elected official on behalf of Black Lives or even make a firm commitment to do a specific deed at a later date.
  5. Give something- Find a way to give to an organization that’s doing good. Whether its a big organization such as Black Lives Matter or another organization fighting for racial equity and empowering the black community in ways such as tutoring or in securing food, there are numerous organizations often black led that are in need of funding to keep doing the good work they are doing. So do some research and give.

Although it’s not what we imagined, when we started 2020, as a people, we exude resilience and creativity and thus we can find ways to celebrate this monumental occasion in the history of this country. I therefore challenge you, do not let this day pass by without being sure to celebrate. Go and celebrate! Happy Juneteenth!

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I am an anti-racist, black/bi-racial educator, activist and therapist. I seek to bring equity awareness/education and ways of healing for people of color.

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Shanya Gray

Shanya Gray

I am an anti-racist, black/bi-racial educator, activist and therapist. I seek to bring equity awareness/education and ways of healing for people of color.

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