Updated: Jun 19
June 19, 2021 Intro:
June 19 is Juneteenth - the day many African-American people celebrate their independence. It has been all this time. Last year, I opened up in the blog below about my relationship with this holiday and hopes that it would soon be recognized by our entire nation. So many people of different backgrounds reached out to me and shared their stories with tears of pain released and gratitude. Today I think of those readers as well as
the many millions of people who are witnessing history with me as we celebrate this most significant day as a nation for the first time in history. Just…Wow. Thank you, God.
And now the June 18, 2020 transparency moment:
As I reflected on my view of this day, I realized I didn’t always see it as a legitimate holiday. I even dismissed it as black people being “extra” and always needing to have their own thing. Are you offended yet? So am I. When I realized this truth about myself I grew sad -sad that I was raised in such a culture that systematically taught me to belittle black moments, that black victories aren't worth celebrating, and that black things, in general, are second rate and unfit for mainstream inclusion. There are no fireworks with streets full of fried foods and festivities. The most we did in Columbus was a small festival where people poured in from the hood and sold African clothes, trinkets, and homemade skincare while anonymous local rappers and singers took turns on stage. It seemed like a cry for help. Yet, that’s not why I disliked the day. The truth is, I was one of those singers, and I LOVED this day as a teen. Let me take you back a bit further.
As a young child, my parents sheltered us from any questionable streets, aka the ghetto. Not because black people were dangerous, but because some poor black people were desperate and ruthless as a result, and all of them were open targets of injustice. It was as if the ghetto was this forgotten place full of people who were stuck. They didn’t want me to identify myself with that life. Good people lived there, but only because they were poor. We were poor. But a kind family friend allowed us to lease their home in a nice neighborhood and my parents worked until they could afford to buy a house in a similarly nice spot. And by nice, I guess I mean white. I didn’t understand and see the difference because I always loved visiting majority-black areas since the neighborhoods I grew up in made me feel ostracized - racial slurs walking home, offhand comments from friends excluding me from wearing certain nail polish they didn't think went with my skin. I would visit my friends in their hood and together we would celebrate impressive black history moments (learned from my mother, who routinely homeschooled us on the topic), sharing about the different weird things we were experiencing from white people - making jokes about their silly insults and make-believing we were superheroes as we went on adventures. When they came to my house we made up rumors about a town lyncher and pretended to investigate who it was. We could ride our bikes freely, but in their area, we weren’t allowed to venture too far though, because you know, it was the hood. Still, I thought their neighborhood was fun and I loved playing in my friend’s backyard.
Then, one day while playing in that backyard I saw 3 white women in all-black approach our vehicle parked outside my friend’s home. Our car was white and we often joked about it being Herbie, ya know, the love bug? Anyways, their faces were covered but I slightly remember their hair. One had a blonde ponytail. With metal bats in hand, they began to smash in our car’s windows. Just then, a young, black woman out walking saw them and yelled, “Hey, stop that!” They lowered their weapons and turned around slowly. Her eyes met theirs with horror. I was frozen, peering over the fence in disbelief. Two of them grabbed her arms, one on each side to stretch her out fully exposing her chest and face. She let out a scream as they began to swing. I ran inside as fast as my legs could take me. “Mom! Hurry, call 911!” My mother did. When the ambulance came they were still beating her. The woman seemed to be no more. They lifted her onto a stretcher and put the women in cuffs. I think I watched someone get murdered. I finally saw for myself that the ghetto was a dangerous place. If only I had run inside the moment they took a bat to our windows, maybe someone could have called the cops before that innocent woman got involved. How old was she? She was beautiful. It was a sobering moment as a child. Why was the world so cruel? I am crying as I write this, but as a child, I didn’t cry. I wanted to believe she was ok. That I had saved her. I was maybe 6 or 7. I don’t remember going back outside that day.
I kept learning about the world through the way white people treated us. In school, a white student begged me not to do well during my play audition because I would ruin everything by being “black on stage.” So I stuffed down my personality and pretended I couldn’t act. It was my dream. I felt so ashamed and confused. I was about 10 then. I won’t unload the laundry list of every incident, but let’s just say every year some white person or group of people demonstrated to me that blacks were not welcome or equal in white spaces. And that specific day in my friend’s backyard I learned that even supposedly black spaces could be invaded at will and exploited or destroyed. I became very guarded and aware of my skin. I hadn’t begun hating myself just yet, but I was aware that certain people did. I knew not all white people did, but since I never knew who was who I developed anxiety and learned to stuff down anything that might make me stand out or threaten to take the spotlight from a white person.
So as a teen, when I found out that Juneteenth was a thing, it made sense to me. I was so happy to learn about it. We had our own day to celebrate our culture and acknowledge our progress in this nation. It mattered to us and that’s all I cared about. I had never heard of it 'til I was placed in an underprivileged area in Columbus by children’s services. If you don’t know why I was in foster care, that’s another story for another time. But until Columbus, I had grown up in majority-white neighborhoods and schools with parents forbidding their children to hang with me and boys saying I was “unkissable,” describing black features with disgust. So I loved being around others like me who thought I was enough and actually wanted me to shine. I climbed on that Juneteeth festival stage to sing and had a blast. I admit the event was not up to scale with any Independence Day celebration I’d been to, but I appreciated the smallness of it. It was humble, yet huge in a way. It was defiant and beautiful. We were doing our own thing. And then…I heard the shot.
Someone had fired a gun into the crowd. Herds of people evacuated like a stampede from the area. And my silly self ran towards the sound like a fool. I couldn’t help it. I needed to see what happened. Was someone shot? Are they ok? And there, with the festival grounds empty, I saw a young black girl and a very small black boy lying on the ground. The girl made no sounds but the quiet whimpers and small breaths she could manage. I don’t even remember if the boy was breathing. I just kept staring at the girl. An adult had also stuck around, possibly their family, and applied pressure on the wound so she wouldn’t bleed to death as they called 911. I just stared. And something broke in me. Did another black person do this? I didn't remember seeing white people there. Or did a white person come just to do it?
Over time I grew bitter. I blamed it somehow on the event itself. I felt that black people truly couldn’t have anything. It hurt too much to see the pain in our community. The way people rejected us, the violence against each other as we suffered from systematic oppression projecting our self-hate and hopelessness, the colorism echoing the Eurocentric beauty standards of our nation. (Back then the natural hair movement and all the things liberating blacks to love themselves hadn’t happened.) And I just broke inside. I didn't know it then, but I had finally inherited the negative lens that so many in this nation, whites and blacks alike, saw us through. I was just a kid. No one could convince me of anything else. I lived in the hood now where the high school education rehearsed things I'd learned in 3rd grade. I walked with a knife tucked into my sleeve wherever I went as white men attempted to traffic me. I sparred with my aunt and often worked out on a punching bag in the garage preparing for if I got jumped. I forgot my obsession with the stories my mom taught. I just wanted to survive and maybe one day be enough in the world. No more bootleg July 4th festivals trying to feel valid. Black people weren't good enough so why should our events be? I needed to protect myself and assimilate. I lost my love for my blackness.
I stole bleaching cream and rubbed it on my face religiously. I dyed my hair blonde, red, honey brown, whatever color highlighted my "mixed" features. I played into the narrative that I’d resisted for years, hiding from the sun to be beautiful. It would be years before I began to pour out all of the pain and address things - take back my self-worth and embrace my heritage again. Desperate to heal after a God moment where I saw myself, I took an elective African-American History college course taught by a very charismatic teacher, Mr. Allen Coleman. It had been so long since I’d admired my people. And I thank God for that man. He suggested we visit Africa and painted a truth-based, narrative of us. He helped us dig into the history of slavery, hate, and greed, not just in America, but across the world.
Years later I visited Africa and felt what it was like to be the beauty standard.
I needed to feel powerful again. I needed to learn what Juneteenth really was about and remember what black history really means for me and this nation, even if they don’t acknowledge it. I mean…. Trump “made Juneteenth famous” now, right? lol. Jk. But seriously, that’s why I am so passionate about black issues. That’s why I painstakingly educate white people who ask, “What should we do?” and navigate their fragility and self-defenses even though it’s seriously exhausting. Because I fought for the self-love I have now. And I came back like a phoenix into who I am meant to be because of black history. Now I intentionally soak in the sun just to admire the melanin in my skin and use my art and voice to bring awareness to black issues, whether they are trending or not.
So please, take a moment and celebrate this incredible, soon-to-be federal, holiday -Juneteenth- unashamed with me. I say "soon to be federal" by faith! I’m so excited and blown away that so many people are talking about it! Literally in tears.
Here are some cool, brief videos and an article I found to brush up on why we celebrate.
Emancipation Proclamation portion:
Why Juneteenth is so important:
Facts about Juneteenth
My protest tribute cover to Kelly Clarkson's "I Dare You"
"I Can't Breathe" by H.E.R.
My TEDx talk about race-based bullying, discovering identity, and realizing the meaning of MLK Jr's dream <3: