As I've gotten older, my desire for knowledge and truth has certainly increased. It is only in recent years that I've become more familiar with the historicity of Juneteenth and the significance of this event. Now, I am all the wiser.
Without diving too deep into our nation’s history and its foundations, I believe that there are several reasons that contribute to the lack of awareness and familiarity with Juneteenth. Historically speaking, Black and African Americans were subjected to a lifetime of enslavement and servitude to their White oppressors. One of the ways this group of people were oppressed was through the suppression of truth—the truth about their identity, their worth, their values and beliefs, and even the truth about their right to freedom were kept hidden for centuries. In fact, when the day of liberation for Black and African Americans arrived on June 19, 1865, many White oppressors withheld this information from slaves, forcing them to be subjected to many more months and years of slavery despite being granted freedom.
So, it’s no surprise that even today—over 150 years since it was first celebrated—Juneteenth still does not receive the recognition or validation that it deserves. I attribute ignorance about Juneteenth to the broader systems in our society, such as our government, which has failed to include or promote the whole truth of our history while continuing to comfortably uphold more appealing lies.
Unfortunately, the impact of half truths or no truths continues to have severe implications on Black and African Americans, future generations, and the nation as whole. As families tend to pass down certain ideas, beliefs, and aspects of history to their youth, knowing the truth becomes all the more important. If ugly truths are never shared, then our society will perpetuate negative beliefs and mindsets and we will never undergo a true transformation, one that could lead to equality and equity.
While I believe that there is a responsibility for individuals to educate themselves and spread the truth, I believe our nation has the greatest responsibility in ensuring that the truth is shared to all, not only within our educational systems but also in our workplaces and in the media. People should neither have to search to find the truth nor should they have to beg for it.
I can only imagine the progress we could make and the change we could see if Black History was truly regarded as American History and if Juneteenth was celebrated and respected as is America’s Independence Day—a day that failed to include Black and African American people.
As an African American, rather than celebrating and reflecting for a single day, I strive to do so every day. By seeking opportunities to listen, learn and reflect whenever possible, I am able to develop a better understanding and appreciation for Black history which is also my history.
Essentially, it has inspired me to learn who I am and what I can achieve because of it.
Sierra G., 23, is a Youth Opportunity Ambassador who is pursing a master's degree in social work. She participates in the Youth Opportunity program through Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, DC.