by Joey Phoenix
The North Shore Juneteenth Association (NSJA) is partnering with The West Medford Community Center next Friday, June 19th from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM for their annual Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, celebration. This year is going to be a lively virtual celebration featuring song, dance, and spoken word designed to educate, enlighten, and entertain everyone who tunes in.
Juneteenth is traditionally a day of celebration with singing, dancing, community events, and potlucks – but this year is just scanning a bit differently. To state the obvious, there’s a pandemic on, but also with widespread civil unrest against systemic oppression and white supremacy following the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tony McDade, and countless others, people are just paying more attention.
“This year is very important because we need to capitalize on the attention that Black Americans are getting where our issues are concerned,” said Nicole McClain, CEO and founder of the NSJA. “Juneteenth is a holiday that we enjoy celebrating and because we have all eyes on us right now, we can celebrate and show the importance of our history.”
People are listening, legislators are listening, so it’s time to use that attention to implement some long term change.
“I think the pandemic is the reason why so many people saw that video,” Nicole added. “A lot of people were outraged, but they might not have seen it otherwise.”
Progress Comes in Stages
2020 is a momentous year historically as it marks the hundredth year since women (read: white women) earned the right to vote in the United States, and 155 years since Juneteenth, or Freedom Day: the liberation of enslaved African-Americans living in the Confederate States.
It’s also an election year.
Black liberation, i.e Juneteenth, came at the very end of the Civil War when, two and a half years after Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves, Union troops were finally able to enforce that executive order in the Southern States, predominately in Texas were slavery was most jealously guarded.
While Juneteenth was celebrated sporadically through the first half of the 20th century, it saw its resurgence during the Civil Rights movements of the 50s and 60s, before becoming an official national holiday in June of 1980 – an initiative led, surprisingly, by Texans. This year, companies around the United States are moving to make Juneteenth a company holiday in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
But progress has been a staggeringly rocky road. Although, every male could legally (read: on paper) vote when Congress passed the 15th amendment in 1870 declaring that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” equal rights weren’t available, especially to Black women, for more than a century later.
And in an age where the suppression of Black voting is still rampant, equality has yet to be reached.
“I’m really looking forward to the changes that result after the unfortunate death of George Floyd,” said McClain. “The [MA] Black and Latino Caucus met, and they’re talking about moving forward on legislation that will change a lot of the laws. I expect there are still going to be some real changes that are happening, and I’m hopeful for the improved treatment of African Americans.”
Join the North Shore Juneteenth Association next Friday for their virtual Freedom Day celebration to learn about the history of this important day and about the issues that BIPOC peoples are currently facing in the movement towards cultural equity.
“It’s not just about the holiday,” Nicole explained. “Celebrating Juneteenth is also about supporting black businesses, being present, and using your voice for justice.”
Joey Phoenix is the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore and is open for feedback. Send them a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
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