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Episode #5: Juneteenth – Our New Federal Holiday

I was inspired to record today’s podcast because President Joe Biden – on June 17th, 2021 – signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. And within hours of it being signed into law, my company’s CEO sent an email to all employees that we would recognize the federal holiday the next day – Friday, June 18th – because this year in 2021 Juneteenth, which is June 19th, falls on a Saturday. I have so many emotions about this new federal holiday and I think it’s a step in the right direction for our country to begin to repair the racial injustice and police brutality against black and brown Americans. I chose to use this *day off* – my fingers are making air quotes – as a day to further educate myself about the history of Juneteenth, to re-watch 13th, the documentary by Ava Duvernay, which explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, adn to finish reading Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ book. Patrisse is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. I learned that I wasn’t the only American who didn’t know much about Juneteenth until last year, in 2020 when organizations and the media just began to introduce this little-known piece of our history. 

Juneteenth is now officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day and is historically known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day. Juneteenth originated in Galveston, Texas and has been celebrated on June 19th in parts of the U.S. since 1865. Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas, which was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery – and 2 and ½ years AFTER Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclomation. In conversations with many people in the African American community after Juneteenth was made a federal holiday, I found out that many of them didn’t know much about the history either. And many of them wanted to go back to their parents and ask what THEY knew about Juneteenth from their own education and childhoods. I did hear about some African Americans in the broader social media community – those who grew up in Texas – they celebrated Juneteenth every year – instead of celebrating the 4th of July! 

I learned that traditional Juneteenth food and drinks for celebration are red, like strawberry soda and red velvet cake. People also wear red on the holiday. The label on Juneteenth Strawberry Soda says, “the sweet sip of freedom”. I also learned that the red food traditions that you eat during the time of Juneteenth bring recognition to the bloodshed of the enslaved. Let me pause here for a minute. I’ve been trying to hold it together – my emotions about why we even have a need to celebrate Juneteenth, a date that proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas, TWO AND A HALF YEARS AFTER THE EMANCIPATION PROCLOMATION – that we fucking had slaves in the United States beginning as early as 1619, so for well over two hundred years. It makes me so sick I can hardly breathe. What the fuck?

And when I re-watched Ava Duvernay’s 13th, I got upset and sick all over again. It’s astonishing that the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and yet 25% of the world’s prisoners. Duvernay contends that slavery has been perpetuated since the end of the American Civil War through criminalizing behavior and enabling police to arrest poor freed men – for minor offenses – AND force them to work – when they could not pay fines – for the state under convict leasing, which only created an incentive to criminalize more behavior; and the suppression of African Americans by disenfranchisement lynchings and Jim Crow legislation to legalize segregation and surpress minorities forcing them into 2nd class status and later politicians declaring a war on drugs that jails white people for less time for powder cocaine and black and brown people for much longer for crack cocaine. By the late 20th century, mass incarceration affected communities of color, especially American descendants of slavery in the U.S. And she examines and explains how much money is being made by corporations from the prison-industrial complex and the emerging detention-industrial complex. To be clear, private prison contractors entered the market to satisfy demand as arrests and sentences increased, forming an independent group with its own economic incentives to criminalize minor activities and lengthen sentences to keep prisons full. What the fuck?? And, politicians and businesses in rural areas encouraged construction of prisons to supply local jobs and have had incentives to keep prisons full. What the actual fuck? This greed from politicians and businessmen – this “over-encarceration” of adults has severely damaged generations of black and minority families and their children. 

Let that sink in. In America. This is disgusting. We should be ashamed of ourselves. This is not the fucking land of the free. And then I bless and I thank Patrisse Khan-Cullors for all her work and her book, “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World”. The whole time I was reading this book, I couldn’t put it down even though I 

felt sick to my stomach and had a lump in my throat the whole time. 

Patrisse grew up in L.A. in the 1980’s and watched her brother and other young teens get arrested, while hanging out in their neighborhood in front of their apartment buildings. Many of the kids had a father in jail and Patrisse’s mother was trying to make a living to support her kids, sometimes working as many as 3 jobs. The slumlords did not take good care of the apartment Patrisse and her neighbors lived in and there were no parks or lawns for the kids to play in. When Patrisse was accepted into a sort of gifted program at a mostly white school, she had to take public transportation, I think, to get there and when she smoked pot in the bathroom with her white classmates, there were no police. But when her brother was caught with a little weed outside their apartment building, he was arrested. What the fuck? Again. 

Patrisse’s story shows us how she became an activist at a very young age and is the story of survival, strength and resilience, seeking to change the culture in this country that declares that innocent Black life is expendable. 

I am glad about Juneteenth being made a federal holiday. I am behind Black Lives Matter. I am an ally for the Black community, the Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage community, for the LGBTQ+ community, for the LatinX community, for immigrants, I support all religions and

ethnicities and anyone else who is marginalized. I support and respect our veterans and I want better care for them, for their service and PTSD. I support all the movements and I am for equal pay for women. I get it. I’m also so sick and sad that we even need these movements and causes because why the fuck wouldn’t we treat every American well and fairly and the same? Why does the color of one’s skin matter or who they love matter? Why have we suppressed women and people of color and the LDBTQ+ communities? Because the straight, white male can’t handle that we are all really just the same on the inside – and when we are all free and supported and loved – we are all of equal value and worth.

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