Illustration by Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer
Illustration by Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer

As much of the world embraces the mantra of “Black Lives Matter,” Juneteenth — the African-American holiday also known as Jubilee Day — has become more appealing to those within the Black community who not only want to challenge institutional racism but grow in their racial pride and knowledge.

Local celebrations and discussions this year are taking place amid ongoing protests and the nascent push to institutionalize Juneteenth — the June 19, 1865, arrival of Union troops to Galveston, Texas, and the end of chattel slavery — as a federally observed holiday.

In Anacostia Park, people will gather for the exchange of solution-oriented ideas and a presentation by a think tank during the Juneteenth African Resource Exchange, what lead organizer Najai Knox described as vital to the preservation of Black people suffering from centuries of neglect.

“It is important for African people to come together as Africans on Juneteenth because we have never been released as prisoners of war. This land was stolen in an act of war and our people were ripped away from their destiny in an act of war,” said Knox, a horticulturist and proponent of deschooling.

“We have been systemically kept from our story, [and] from the truth,” Knox said. “We were stolen, abused, and have been the victims of attempted genocide. This attempt to kill the largest population on Earth is seen with the slaying and 24/7 display of Black death on television and across social media. If we do not exchange with each other, we lose. We lose knowledge. We lose momentum. We lose time. And we do not have time to waste.”

In a move that infuriated many Black people, President Donald Trump (R) announced a rally for his most ardent supporters that would take place on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the southern Black-ran city that flourished during the early 20th century before falling to white mob violence. Trump would later renege on those plans, while some of his party affiliates in Congress claimed his ignorance on the matter.

Those organizing events in the District and across the nation have set out to combat anti-Blackness like that which they have accused Trump and other government officials.

Not far from the Juneteenth African Resource Exchange, revelers will march along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in celebration of Ward 8 residents, businesses, and culture. A virtual Black cop discussion and town hall has also been scheduled for Friday, along with a national work strike, and a Don’t Mute DC protest and march headlined by Sugar Bear and EU and the Backyard Band.

Black Lives Matter DC has also been scheduled to launch its “Six 19: Defend Black Lives” campaign. This comes in the wak of the group’s hosting of a protest party in front of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s home and their addition of “Defund the Police” to the now world-famous mural she commissioned earlier this month. During a recent budget oversight hearing hosted by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, organizers within the group continued in their calls to significantly slash Metropolitan Police Department funding.
For local educator and community advocate Ahmed Braxton, the merging of historical reverence and tangible action will usher in the freedom that Black people have long desired.

While Braxton, born and raised in Southeast, hasn’t committed to any particular Juneteenth function, he said the quintessential gathering involves raw, down-to-earth discussions with friends and family about the holiday’s present-day relevance.

“It’s important not to lose sight of what this means for Black liberation and divesting from this system. We should have those conversations while learning about the significance of Juneteenth,” said Braxton, 24.

“This is a moment to seize working for African liberation. Explain to people at a cookout the importance of Juneteenth. If you have that knowledge, disseminate it without beating it over people’s heads.”

Northeast resident Michael Newby, with memories of this year’s Ramadan fresh in his mind, echoed those sentiments, telling The Informer that he’ll spend his 10th Juneteenth away from the workplace to immerse himself in local Black cuisine, film, music and history.

He called these actions part of an effort to honor and recognize his ancestors for the sacrifices they made in laying a foundation for his generation. With the increasing popularity of Juneteenth, Newby relished the possibility of the holiday further compelling Black people to work in the fight for liberation in whichever way possible.

“I’m under the understanding that Juneteenth is going to be bigger this year for the community than it’s ever been,” Newby said. “I hope that it doesn’t sheerly turn into a day of celebration and lends itself to more organization towards the freedom fight on all fronts. I hope that it leads to more honest and nuanced talks amongst the many intersections who comprise Black America to build more empathy and compassion among ourselves.”

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Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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