From as far back as I can remember, every June 19th, my family, family-friends, and everyone in between would get together and celebrate Juneteenth.
A blend of the words June and Nineteenth, Juneteenth is believed to be the oldest Black-American holiday. It dates back to 1866, two years after president Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil war ended. On June 19th, 1865 federal troops entered Galveston, Texas to assume control of the state and guarantee that all enslaved residents were freed.
"I can’t pinpoint when exactly I learned about Juneteenth but my mind is filled with these celebratory memories: delicious BBQ in someone’s backyard, hours of summer fun with my cousins, or huge family picnics in Buffalo’s MLK Jr. Park."
Most importantly, these celebrations filled me with so much Black pride. A pride that was never encouraged in any of my history classes or during the short-lived Black History Month programs. Unlike anything I learned in school, Juneteenth offered an inspiring version of my peoples’ history that helped me and my family memorialize our ancestors who endured America’s brutal chattel slave system.
So, last year when President Biden signed a bill that turned Juneteenth into a federal holiday, I thought the country was finally taking a few steps in the right direction. But then I noticed some of my non-black friends and co-workers had'nt celebrated Juneteenth.
Many of them turned to me and asked: “What's Juneteenth?”
That thought alone worried me and what instantly sprang to mind is what happens across my social media timelines come May: White Americans dressed in sombreros gleefully tossing back tequila shots without actually knowing why the heck Cinco de Mayo is a holiday worthy of celebration.
Fast-forward to May 2022 when Walmart released a ‘Juneteenth’ flavored ice cream - rather than promoting black-owned ice cream brands. But wait, there’s more . . . beer koozies featuring the African American flag, and - wait for it - partyware that reads ‘It’s the freedom for me.’
I mean, who approved such an offensive slogan? It’s high time American businesses make room for diverse and often silenced voices when making crucial marketing decisions. This isn't one more saccharine Hallmark holiday, but an opportunity to commemorate Black Americans’ plight, struggle, endurance, and survival.
The entire debacle reinforces why it’s essential to support Black-owned businesses. I’m more intent than ever on investing my purchasing power in enterprises that respect, unify, and uplift the communities I belong to.
"With ugly episodes like the Walmart outrage, it’s best to remember that we are not as powerless as we’re told we are."
So, please celebrate Juneteenth gloriously and respectfully. Be sure you know what the holiday stands for, who the holiday is for, and its deeply rich and nuanced history.