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Happy (Black) Independence Day

June 19, 2020

By Ryan Clopton-Zymler, Assistant Director, Office of Inclusion, Heritage College, Cleveland

Today, we celebrate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day the last enslaved Americans were given word of the Emancipation Proclamation. On this day in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the United States Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order Number 3, declaring the war over and all enslaved people were free.

For those of you familiar with history, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863 -- which means it took two and a half years for the word to travel and inform enslaved people of their right to freedom. Though history has different explanations for that delay, that joyous day has gone on to be lovingly referred to as "Juneteenth," the day that ended chattel slavery.

For many of us, Juneteenth is the preferred celebration of freedom over July 4, as many of our ancestors were not considered "free" on the day widely known as Independence Day. Though it is not recognized nationally as a federal holiday, 47 states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday, a ceremonial holiday or a day of observance. That is why many of us choose to take the day off, to celebrate as we see fit.

As a queer Black person, Juneteenth feels particularly powerful this year as it is happening in the midst of a re-invigorated national movement for the protection and celebration of Black lives. Similarly, with June being Pride month, it allows for deeper conversations about the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. As it stands, queer people of color are at an increased risk of violence and other disparities, but Black transgender women are at the greatest risk. So despite monumental successes like the Supreme Court employment non-discrimination decision and yesterday's ruling to block the current administration's attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, we still have so much work to do to ensure that we all get free.

So what can you do to honor Juneteenth? You can start by signing the petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Considerations for Black folks:

  • Take some time off, in whatever way works for you (practice radical self-care)
  • Celebrate yourself and your loved ones
  • Plan or attend a (pandemic-appropriate) Juneteenth celebration
    • This virtual celebration is being planned and implemented by Clevelanders: Juneteenth4me
  • Reflect and plan

Considerations for Non-Black folks:

  • Re-commit yourself to understanding the legacy of slavery, including the complex relationship to the prison industrial complex
  • Continue supporting and donating to organizations dedicated to protecting and celebrating Black lives
  • Support a Black owned business or restaurant
    • I recently downloaded the app EatOkra so I can find Black-owned restaurants when traveling
  • Continue to reflect on your commitment to becoming anti-racist

As the national conversation about racial equity continues to slowly wane, we must sustain the intensity of seeking true liberation for all Black people. But today, I wish you a renewed sense of peace, hope and joy.

“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order for us to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.” (Audre Lorde)