154 years ago today, word finally reached Galveston, Texas that the cruel and dehumanizing practice of slavery had been abolished in the United States once and for all. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued over 2 years prior, many slave owners continued to hide that information from the slaves who were now free men and women.
I like to think of Juneteenth as a day of independence for African Americans across the country — a day in which we celebrate the final slave freed in Texas and the emancipation of slaves throughout the entire Confederate South. Not to mention celebrating the faith, courage, and strength of former slaves — a strength shared by the descendants of these former slaves that continues to be a shining example for all people in the United States today.
Think about that: Just six generations ago, there were African Americans in this country who didn’t get the dignity that comes from being paid for their labor, let alone having the right to vote or participate fully in American society. When I was a kid in Philadelphia, my parents instilled in me the work ethic that continues to drive me to this day. My childhood wasn’t easy, but — through it all — I loved working hard, providing for myself and my family, and giving back to the community that supported us.
Beyond celebrating those Texans who survived the horrors of slavery and acknowledging just how much progress we’ve made since then, it is also important to spend some time this Juneteenth reminding ourselves of the ongoing struggle to end racism and discrimination in this country, from mass incarceration to voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts. After all, Dr. King’s famed March on Washington was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and that march is a drumbeat that continues to guide my path forward today in the fight for equality and justice for all people.
Things don’t change when we all sit in silence, they change when people decide they’ve had enough of accepting the status quo. Together, we shall overcome.