That was my Facebook Status update from this past Saturday, half jesting, half serious. In previous years, I have preferred not to participate in honoring the day, in which a Calvary of Black Soldier arrived at a plantation in Galveston, Texas to read the proclamation to my distant enslaved ancestors that our supposedly freedom was granted from our oppressors. I always questioned the logic of celebrating our collective freedom, when so many of our brothers and sisters remain enslaved through the prison industrial complex, inferior education systems, disparities in health care and of course, mental oppression. And less not forget, our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters, who according to Race-Talk, are the new face of enslaved people here in America. With so much work to be done on the liberation front, what exactly is there to celebrate?
Needless to say, attending the first annual (and revived) Juneteenth Day along the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue wasn’t initially on the top of my list of things to do. However, I ran into a friend, Deborah Gray, owner of the Coloring Book Gallery Children’s Bookstore, located at 6353 Germantown Avenue, who urged me to come through. Paraphrasing Gray, “There’s going to be food, a drumming circle and of course, you can check out my store.” According to Gray, the Coloring Book is the country’s the oldest multicultural children's bookstore. Recently relocating from Northern Virginia, the shop with the pretty blue façade, which also sits along a stretch of Germantown Avenue where the great majority of businesses are black-owned, has the privilege of being the city’s only children bookstore. So as a lover of books and sometimes children, how could I refuse the invitation?
While I arrived too early for meat of the festivities, which kicked off later on in the afternoon (I had a class to teach which prohibited me from staying too long) I did manage to catch the reenactment of the life of Harriet Tubman (the condensed version, of course) and check out Gray’s bookstore (see video below). And as I walked passed by the storefront displays tributing the many facts of black history at several of the businesses along the Avenue, I was hit with the sudden awareness of how our educational system does a piss poor job of actually educating, and how little is known of our history in and before this country. And while the displays themselves were of the no-frills, generic kind (basic black history facts on cardboard cut-outs), these businesses – these black businesses – are doing a service of keeping our history alive (and inspiring a thirst of knowledge) for the younger generation, who has to maneuver in a society that wants them to “get over it” and assimilate. And I would be remised if I didn’t mention the spiritual connection between our ancestors of past, who’s slaved for someone else’s gain, and the black businesses along the Avenue, who’s were now free to reap the reward of their own labor.
So, is the celebration of Juneteenth Independence Day premature? Perhaps. However a big part of liberation involves the re-education of our people and if the honoring of this day brings forth a new, or renewed, sense of self, than let the celebration begins.