Juneteenth is an annual festival full of activities and rituals for you to adopt or participate in as a way to celebrate, remember and expand the Black experience in the U.S.
In just a year, Juneteenth has become symbolic to the term “Black freedom.” While this is a reach of what Juneteenth really was about, it is indeed an annual celebration of the last enslaved Blacks finding out about the order of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
Since the Emancipation, Blacks have fought for citizenship and the freedoms that go along with it. This freedom is afforded by whites and those who could assimilate into society without the caste system of being Black and American, and being descendants of enslaved Blacks in the United States. Though fleeting, in specific areas, the yearly ritual of remembrance and participating in activities acknowledging the long held struggle towards true freedom remained.
I’ve been celebrating Juneteenth for most of my life. It is a largely popular Black event in Los Angeles where I grew up. A celebration brought to the area by Texas and Louisiana migrants, Juneteenth has grown and shrunk over the years. But, one constant remains. You must celebrate. You must acknowledge the work of our ancestors. You must be vigilant in freedom activities be they little or small.
Here are a list of things that you can do today and throughout the week that commemorate Juneteenth and all of the other emancipation festivals that Blacks have put on to recognize their freedom struggle
Put on your best fit before you go out.
Rooted in a very southern tradition, when you go out, you put on your finest clothes. Often, in the past, this happened on Sunday after church, but became important as Blacks left the agrarian south to form a national diaspora.
In Chicago, Harlem, Seattle and Oakland when Black folk went to the segregated section at the movies in what was called, “Nigger Heaven,” which was the balcony, or took an afternoon stroll, the women donned their best dress, gloves and hat, while the men wore a perfect suit. The children were primed with dresses and patent leather shoes.
To dress was a source of pride. Coming from a position where Blacks could not purchase clothes and were given meager outfits from plantation owners was part of the process of dehumanizing Black people, thus part of enslavement. Often, the attire was from discarded burlap sacks or very worn hand-me-downs. So, to wear snazzy clothes in post-Emancipation was a way to present oneself in an image that speaks to power and self love. This is old school self-care. Everyone owned a suit and what were called “nice clothes,” or something that was formal.
Traditionally, in Africa and in Native cultures, hair and clothes are symbols of status. That continues with Black folk. My father was a truck driver who would put on a suit sometimes to go play the lottery. He took pride in how he was a blue-collar worker in the world of white establishment, but a stylish, respected Black man in his community.
Join or watch a parade.
Parading is one of the oldest form of Juneteenth celebrations. The longer the history of parades, the more elaborate and extensive they will be. In Texas, there are Miss Juneteenth pageants with floats and flowers. In Los Angeles, the highlights were always the bands, some from historically black colleges and universities were invited too. Look to see where your local parade is happening, or start one if a parade is missing.
- Visit a Black farm or black farmers market.
We worked the land. Black folk worked the land and now we are returning to it. With the growing interest of Black farmers, look for a farmer on Black Farmers Index. As well, Black farmers markets have been popping up too. One of the more popular one’s is the Black farmers market in Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Gospel choir performances.
Documents on Juneteenth and the reading of the Emancipation record people “singing and shouting” in praise and thanks. Even the most elite used the Black American aesthetic of shouting, singing, dancing and praying in celebration; hence, the diary of Charlotte Forten, a Washington DC resident who was a proper Negro woman. In her record, she spoke of shouting and singing until she could not. So it is appropo to check out a gospel choir performance at a nearby church, but on this day, there might be a local public performance.
- Family meal with traditional foods.
Food is such a central element to celebrations and festivals. Whether you barbecue or make a mean batch of red beans and rice, center this day in eating with family. Now remember, after Emancipation, Black people formed their own families when they could not locate blood relatives. So family in Black tradition has never been nuclear, nor has it been based on blood ties.
| Read: What is your Juneteenth dinner?
When you do gather, cook traditional meals from the diverse culinary history of Black Americans. A lot of people narrow Black culinary tradition, but soul food is expansive and intricate. Buy a cookbook from some Black chefs to find out the diversity of our food traditions then throw a potluck so all can participate as a community.
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- Visit Black memorial sites.
Juneteenth is a day to remember our history, who we are and the work that we did. There is a saying we often use that is rooted in the Akan tradition of Sankofa. You must know your history before mapping out your future. Go to these sites; especially with youth and children. Read them and talk about them, but as well, they are spiritual centres, so as much historicizing you are doing, you are also paying homage.
- Stroll through a historical Black neighborhood
Before gentrification rolls over them, do what your ancestors once did—walk with pride through a Black neighborhood. Buy an ice cream or a burger from a business. What was not predicted after desegregation was Black brain drain. Many Black professionals left Black neighborhoods, which left remaining populations struggling to negotiate a white power structure. It was after Civil Rights that you see massive projects that uprooted stable Black communities for infrastructure that served white Americans like the highways that barrelled through Black communities built for white suburbanites to get to their city jobs.
If you’re in Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Tampa Bay, Charlotte, Wilmington, Greenwood in Tulsa, and the list goes on: take a walk on the dark side, the Black side of neighborhoods that served as Black sanctuaries once housing wealth and community.
- Shop Black exclusively
Some people fast on holidays. Some people pray. If you like to shop, create a challenge between you and friends to only shop Black on this day.
- Donate to an HBCU
For over a century, historical black colleges and universities have been committed to education; and in particular, educating Black youth. Though not exclusively, not now at least, HBCUs were the only places most Blacks could obtain higher education. That history, and the institutions are critical today as now more students are opting to return to schools that they see will help develop their whole selves. Donating to an HBCU is investing in the future of Black America.
- Partake in a Black religious event.
As mentioned before, the Emancipation was tied to religious celebrations. So much so, that one of the ways Blacks observed the day of emancipation was through “Freedom watch nights,” that occurred on New Years Eve. Since the Emancipation Proclamation was read on January 1, 1863, from then on those who brought in the New Year with religious and secular freedom songs and anthems at church and community services, transformed them into freedom celebrations marking the official departure of bondage.
Enjoying Juneteenth at a church, mosque, spiritual center or even at a non-denominational event in a garden, still carry on the ancestral rituals of using prayer as a form of celebration.
- Attend an outdoor concert or show featuring Black performers.
What would we be if we did not have Black art? On this day take in a hip hop or jazz concert, an outdoor poetry reading, or even a play. It was our creativity, our song, our dance that carried us through many nights before Emancipation and after it. Plus, supporting Black creative ventures after COVID-19 would put food on the table of a lot of artists.
- Clean up a block then party.
Organize a block clean up to show that your neighborhood is as beautiful as the next. When I was in Korea, every morning, everyone swept outside their doors. This simple act can be transformative, and does not require money, but a little sweat equity and some working together. It also pairs well with a great block party.
- Give food or other charitable acts.
If you’re an at-home-and-chill person, or want to directly impact someone’s life who needs it, feed the block, or throw a party giving away donated dresses and suits. Another idea is to partner with a hair salon or barbershop to give away discounted hair cuts or give the barbers and stylist a stipend for their work. I believe that we should always compensate our essential workers, so free hair cuts need not be the answer.
- Attend or organize a technology fair or workshop
As we are now officially in a hyper-digital age, there are so many people, especially our Baby Boomers and some Generation Xers who need training in technology. Or perhaps, we need to know the latest technology trends, platforms or devices. Or up the game, provide a space for inventors and investors to create tech ventures at a fair or series of workshop.
- Get into some yoga in the park or at the beach.
There is a budding group of Yoga practitioners who are of African descent or are Black natives that are often overlooked. A great way to meditate and cultivate the best intentions for yourself is yoga in a picturesque place that quells the mind and is good juju for the body.
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- Wine it, pop it, twirl it during public dancing
When you hear, “Right foot stomp,” you know folk are running to the plaza, the dance floor, the open space, wherever, to partake in the collective movement. Put on a dance-a-thon or public line dance in the park or at a community center. Move that body after it being dormant for over a year.
- Join a Renaissance Ride
When I lived in Newark, New Jersey, there was an annual bike ride where people dressed up in the Black version of the Victorian Age. The event earmarked the Black presence in Newark since the 17th century, and how their contributions shaped the city. During what I would call a “Renaissance Ride,” they biked around the city, and even stopped for tea or vino at places. This is a great version of intersecting history with fitness and fashion.
- Carve out some story times and storytelling sessions
We’ve lost so much of our history by allowing educational systems to do the work of telling it. Let’s get back to the storytelling of our personal, national and international histories. Juneteenth is not an “adulting” thing, it is a multigenerational phenomenon that must include the children. Hire a storyteller, or ask elders in the neighborhood to narrate their experiences. Or, you can do a Q&A style format to hear our experiences. Whatever you do, document your existence or it will be erased.
- Put on a health fair
Your health is your wealth. For most Blacks who were Emancipated, one of the biggest issues was accessing a doctor. Today, healthcare is still an issue in the African American community. Why not invite doctors, dentists, chiropractors and nurses, and non-Western practitioners out to volunteer for a day of health? This is true liberation.
- Protest or demonstrate for justice and civil rights
You cannot have Juneteenth without resistance. Many people opted to use Juneteenth 2020 as an extension of the George Floyd protests. In truth, protesting is an American tradition, and Black American protest for liberation is well documented. In 1892, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a huge world exposition, the organizers wanted to have a Colored People’s Day or Jubilee day for August 25. Activist and journalist, Ida B. Wells, and activist Frederick Douglass opted to pass out pamphlets signifying the atrocities of Black people following Emancipation.
- Open up an account at a Black bank
One part of freedom is access to economics. To build institutions, there must be an economic center. Black banks have been trying through years of turmoil and challenges. To add to your portfolio, open up an account and become an active member. Black banks need a lot of TLC and accountability, but they also need dinero.
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- Facilitate an herbal or spiritual exposition
What the entry of millennials into adulthood showed us is that they hold this saying sacred: “fuck your tradition.” Ironically, they are reaching back to non-Western traditions to cultivate what they see as more holistic and grounded self and community care. So throw an exposition with vendors of the old ways using a new age lens. That is your herbalists, crystal experts, reiki masters, naturopathic practitioners, psychics and others who look for expansive healing methods and modalities.
- Visit museums focusing on Black artifacts and the Black experience
- Go see your family
Be they blood or spirit kin, visit your folk; especially the elders and children. Family is power and the ultimate act of revolution.
- Hit up a Black bookstore
For me, one of the sexist dates is at a bookstore. Make it Black, it was highly likely you’d get three more dates out of me. But, now that I’m married, bookstore dates were a staple until the Rona. In that vein, we are excited about reading and talking over a nice cup of tea at a bookstore now that the country is gradually opening. But, if you’re near a Black bookstore, visit it and purchase a book. One of the issues with books maintaining circulation is that the digital age has overtaken them. Now is a great time to build your personal library, as I predict books will be a hot commodity within the next 30 years.
- Conduct a dope book reading
Dive into a great historical novel, or a non-fiction piece for a book reading that allows your mind to explore with others. The book can be anything from poetry, to essays, even a steamy love story, but just read and talk. It makes for a great gathering.
- Host a tea or coffee and talk
Sometimes you just need a good leaf or bean and great chat. Pick a great tea or coffee company, preferably Black, but if you cannot find one, a nice indigenous place will do. Make the event a theme, dress up and get ready to pop off.
- Plan a great date night
Are y’all listening right now. We need to love up and love on each other more. Plan a dynamic date at a Black owned establishment or cook a great dinner, but put romance back into freedom.
- Allow your spirit to soar at a drummers circle
The drum was banned in the Americas to prevent enslaved Africans and Native Blacks from using this powerful musical instrument that also served as a message board. Nowadays, public drumming circles at parks, beaching and community centers are great ways to tap into your ancestral rhythms.
- Host a wine, spirit or beer tasting
There are so many great brewmasters, winemakers and Black owned distilleries giving you plenty of options to throw a nice tasting, or attend one.
- Pay your respects: Flowers and offerings on a grave
It is always good for the soul to recognize those who we stand on. Some flowers, a toy, a cigar, or a bottle of brown liquor by a gravesite honors those who have passed on, and let’s us know that they are a part of who we are. In short, we are our ancestors and one day will be someone’s ancestor.
- Donate to Ark Republic
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