This Monday was Juneteenth. A holiday commemorating the actual freedom from slavery in the United States. Well, that is simplifying it a bit, but there are some great resources out there about the holiday, so I’ll just offer my meager reflections on a “toe in” celebration of the day.
My first instinct was to exclude myself from this holiday but I am now thoroughly convinced that it is important to celebrate freedom from slavery on Juneteenth, not because I have blood-ancestors who were slaves, but because the country I live in was built by and on the backs of many enslaved African Americans. In that way, they are my ancestors – my brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles whose work, though stolen, was instrumental in creating this country. So when our 9 year old, Ben, wanted to go to the Springfield Symphony Orchestra free concert to celebrate Juneteenth, I wrestled with whether or not we should go. Is it ok?
Well, I decided “yes.” We would go and see. So, Ben and I talked about Juneteenth on our way to the concert.
I’m so glad we went. We had the pleasure of finding ourselves in a place that welcomed us, taught us, and even led us in worship! Jazz musician, Avery Sharpe (Springfield’s own), was featured heavily in the concert and when he took the mic he mentioned a speech given by Frederick Douglass titled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Can you imagine? I’m still thinking about it.
So, my encouragement to you? I believe all of us will have a richer understanding of this country we share (and our calling to it) when we invest our time and attention in all the stories that built (and are building) America.
And, even as July 4th approaches, let us celebrate with reflective minds. While it is incredible to have a country where much freedom abounds, while we express gratitude for soldiers and leaders who have fought, lived and died for our freedom, there are so many who still cannot benefit equally from it. When God looks upon the United States, God sees EVERYONE. And so, I believe, should we.