On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a U.S. national holiday.
On May 14, 2022, a white man executed a planned act of racist mass murder, gunning down patrons at a Tops grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y. In proximity to the Juneteenth holiday, it’s challenging to reconcile these two events. The first commemorates the end of the institution of slavery in America. The second illustrates, in literal blood and tears, the legacy of racial oppression and terrorization that still pervades this country.
Contradiction is discomforting, yet contradiction is inherent in the founding principles of this country. The Declaration of Independence extols the idea that humans have the right to life and liberty, but at the time of its writing the slave trade thrived. American slavery’s eventual demise was due to the resistance of Black people – through revolt, escape and organizing for abolition. Enslaved African Americans knew the ideal of freedom applied to all. Their desire for life and liberty burned bright, and they utilized what they had – mind, body and soul – to achieve it.
Juneteenth celebrates the strengths and contributions of African Americans. A guiding principle of the New Mexico Black Leadership Council is assets-based community development. This approach elevates strengths rather than focusing on supposed deficiency. The aim is to find existing resources, then build upon them by developing multiculturalism and cultivating partnerships that support Black communities.
Juneteenth is an example of multicultural development. It’s tempting, however, to view the holiday as an opportunity to check off the anti-racism box or capitalize on it for self-serving purposes. Walmart’s “Juneteenth” ice cream debacle is a prime example. Maybe if Walmart had planned to donate the profits to organizations advocating for the end of racial oppression, their new product line would have gone over better. We can learn from the mistake of a multibillion-dollar corporation; we can support a Black-owned business not to check a box, but to appreciate the value of its products and services. We can and should celebrate Juneteenth because of, and in spite of, the horrific acts of violence still occurring in the United States and the world. By meeting new people and broadening our social and community spheres, we can challenge the idea that it’s OK to target and oppress any race of people. Understand what Juneteenth represents and stoke the fire for liberty and justice for all. When we expand our worldview and open our hearts and minds, the possibility for true and inclusive social justice follows.
There are Juneteenth celebrations occurring across the city:
• The City of Rio Rancho and the NAACP Rio Rancho branch are hosting a Juneteenth Freedom Day Event at Campus Park Friday, June 17th, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. More at www.facebook.com/events/1659084574460850/
• Albuquerque community organizers are hosting Juneteenth on Civic Plaza Saturday, June 18th, noon – 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 19th, 3 – 8 p.m. More at nmjuneteenth.com/.
• Southwest Save the Kids and Building Power for Black New Mexico are hosting People’s Juneteenth in Roosevelt Park Saturday, June 18th, 4 – 9 p.m. More at facebook.com/events/1020370628591037.
Check the calendar for Juneteenth celebrations by various organizations at nmblackhistory.nmblc.org/events/.