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Happy Black Independence Day! Understanding Juneteenth and 159th Year of Fighting for Liberation

If you’re wondering why you didn’t have to go to work on Monday, it’s because it was the 157th year of Juneteenth (aka Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day), but only the second year observed as a federal holiday. June 19th (Juneteenth) was the day that Major General Gordon Granger and Union Soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas, and announced the abolition of slavery to enslaved people. This day was two years after President Lincoln had already established the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is the day many enslaved people learned about their liberation for the first time.

Yet, 159 years later, we still struggle and fight for liberation.

While we’re celebrating 157 years of the acknowledgment and the understanding of our freedom, modern-day slavery and oppression still exist and look slightly different than they did in 1863, so our fight and path to liberation look different.

Political unrest and racialized state violence during the infamous “Summer 2020” propelled Juneteenth into the national spotlight. That summer highlighted the deep-rooted history of systemic violence and oppression that still impacts Black people today. It was the first time that many Americans heard words like “systemic oppression” and “institutionalized racism.” Today, the fight against these systems of oppression and Black liberation takes many forms. We fight for access to healthcare, access to equitable education, reproductive justice, universal basic income, abolition of the prison industrial complex, disability rights, gender equity, queer and trans liberation– the list goes on and on! The oppression of Black people is inextricably linked to the oppression of every marginalized group. Therefore, it is our duty to uplift and fight for Black liberation so that we can successfully dismantle the foundation that every system of oppression in America depends on— anti-black racism.

As a 22-year-old racial equity practitioner, I am aware that I am fighting for a future I may never see. However, I am responsible for ensuring that the generations after me reap the fruits of our labor and live the lives we dream of today.

I’m also aware that this seems like a daunting and never-ending fight – – because it is. Luckily we fight one day at a time. We win the battle before we can win the war. But, like in 1865, the first step in accessing liberation isn’t being aware of freedom.

Kwame Ture once said, “the only progress for our people is a rising consciousness of the masses. if you have rising consciousness and worsening conditions, there’s no question you’re heading towards the path of revolution”. In the day of social media and hyperconnectivity, we can raise awareness about the atrocities and mobilize around these causes. I don’t mean hashtag activism or posting a cute graphic on your Instagram story. I mean taking the time to research and promote well-vetted information about instances of injustice and urge people to do something about it. We can’t just believe that everyone already knows about these issues. 2020 highlighted that that is not the case. You don’t know what you don’t know, so taking the time to educate yourself and others about the issues that plague our society can bring about change. When we raise awareness, we can no longer sustain the suffering we are forced to endure.

The next step is to act. Voting is not the only way to promote change. In fact, the abolitionists that fought for liberation didn’t even have the ability to vote, yet they fought relentlessly and succeeded. Acting can include protesting and donating to community organizers and mobilizers who dedicate their lives to fighting for equity and liberation. Change doesn’t need to start from the top down. Instead, we can leverage our access and privilege to help others continue the horizontal movement of resources and opportunities rather than doing it for them.

Now here is where things get tricky. Corporations are often the proponents of some of the most violent and oppressive acts of violence in the US and globally. If we truly want to remedy this, there must be some recrimination of the past and an actionable pathway forwards that exemplifies equity. Marginalized communities are constantly told to move and forget about the past. We cannot effectively move on without acknowledging past actions, reversing the damages, and ensuring that no one will have the authority to marginalize others or be the victim of systems that disenfranchise and marginalize communities.

This step is the hardest because it requires us to confront a very uncomfortable reality and asks us to take responsibility for actions we have intentionally or unintentionally perpetrated. It also requires us to deny ourselves access to privilege and opportunities to create opportunities for others. This is the hardest and the most important step in liberation.

Lastly, as critical stakeholders of our global community, we have the unique opportunity to use the innovation that our industry is built on to create a world that achieves and sustains liberation. We shape the culture and make the messages the world uses to learn about themselves and other communities. Prioritizing cultural competency and social responsibility as cultural curators will enhance individuals’ interpersonal interactions and activate change one person at a time.

Liberation is long, challenging, and demanding. But, most of all, liberation is necessary and continues 159 years later.

Until we collectively start doing the necessary work, we will never have liberty and justice for all.

Our struggle is yours, and yours is ours.

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