Celebrating & Honoring the Significance of Juneteenth

Black can be characterized as the absence of light. Black is often used as a symbol to represent darkness. Being Black in America, these phrases resonate with different emotions and images, though pain seems to be a constant. As we all know, slavery was at one point in time, legal in the United States. Currently, we recognize the Fourth of July as Independence Day. Quite literally, nationwide, we recognize and remember this day as a day of freedom. What we fail to recognize is that this freedom was not all-inclusive. It was on July 4, 1776 in which the 13 colonies declared their independence from England, which later came to form the United States. But, did you know that not all Black Americans were free at this time? It was on June 19, 1865, that the remaining enslaved Black Americans were officially freed, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation’s effective date of January 1, 1863. This day later became known as “Juneteenth.”

Juneteenth is a day of liberation that deserves to be observed in the same way that Independence Day has been celebrated for so many years. Given the recent climate and historical context of our nation concerning race relations, Juneteenth holds an especially important place in my heart this year. So what does Juneteenth mean to me? It provides me with a feeling of connectedness and a sense of belonging that I am not always privileged given the intersections of my identity – being Black and being a woman. It fills me with joy, pride and gratitude as I am reminded of what it means to be Black. To be Black is to be proud, artistic, creative, passionate, loving, kind, strong, devoted, and most of all, resilient. Just as I wear the color of my skin, I am clothed in resiliency day in and day out. Being Black, just this year, has entailed the following: 1) Navigating a global pandemic while people who look like me are dying at a disproportionate rate; 2) Experiencing secondary trauma while grieving the deaths of people who were killed simply because of the color of their skin, which matches mine; 3) Fighting for justice and humanization of my race, while simultaneously attending to my daily job duties; and 4) Finding joy despite the pain.

As you go on to celebrate graduations, anniversaries, birthdays and small victories, I urge you to celebrate our nation’s differences and the beautiful cultures you are given the opportunity to see and experience up close. Although black can be characterized as the absence of light, I would argue that the world would be far less colorful without it…without us.

Happy Juneteenth!

Kayla Ervin, MA
Counselor – MARS

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