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After a Year of Bearing Witness to So Much Pain, This Year I’m Celebrating Juneteenth in Full Force

Written by DeAndrea Chavis on Jun 15, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, 2U HQ

Juneteenth has been getting more recognition over the last few years, and for good reason. The holiday began in 1865 as a celebration of emancipated slaves in the U.S.

It’s no secret that Black people in America have faced a lot of adversity in our lives. For the last year and a half, quarantine has forced many Americans to stay home, resulting in countless hours of watching TV and scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. With that, we’ve witnessed dozens of Black people’s encounters with police brutality, social injustices, and just downright wrongdoing to us.

DeAndrea dreams big in full-on technicolor

A few months ago, we all watched the George Floyd murder case, anxiously hoping for a guilty verdict. I heard screams of joy in my apartment complex and saw social media posts in celebration of the verdict from all around the world—only to find out minutes later that Ma’khia Bryant had been shot by police. For a brief shining moment, I knew the jury had made the right decision and justice had finally been served. Seconds later, that moment was heartbreakingly ripped away before I could process the historic event that had just happened.

DeAndrea and her brother as kids, playing by the barn their great-grandfather built on land he sharecropped, which continues to be passed down through their family

Celebrating What We Are Responsible for Creating

Social media has played a huge role in the increase of recognition of Juneteenth. While being Black is multifaceted and encompasses many different nationalities, this holiday specifically gives Black Americans a dedicated day to embrace a great sense of pride. There are dozens of African and Caribbean holidays too, but many of those traditions have sadly been lost between generations and descendants of enslaved families.

Perhaps this is partly why I first learned about Juneteenth when I was 12 or 13 years old. My family and I were playing a Black trivia card game, and my very first question was “What date is Juneteenth observed?” Unfortunately, I did not know the answer, which led to a discussion with my family about its history. Although that was my first introduction to the holiday, I didn’t truly begin celebrating Juneteenth until after my first year at Hampton University, one of America’s HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), in 2015. My HBCU life encouraged me to celebrate my Blackness and all that it embodies.

DeAndrea (center, white t-shirt) and sorority sisters from Hampton University

Until that point, I had never fully understood and appreciated the holiday. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, that fact bothers me even more—especially because my middle school and high school were both majority Black and Brown students. How could they have not taught a holiday that pertains to so many of their students??!! This reality needs to change, and not just for schools where White students are the minority.

Throughout history, Black Americans have had to share so much of our culture with the world—our cultural characteristics have been stolen, appropriated, and/or taken for granted by others so many times. That means we often forget to cherish what we are ultimately responsible for creating: our music, our food, our art, our ideas, and the most shared of all, our bodies.

DeAndrea (left) and friends marching for Black justice

A Day for Black Pride, When Nothing Else Matters

I love that Juneteenth has been gaining more recognition from many different heritages, but it’s still frustrating for me to see Black Americans not observing it at the level we do most other holidays. I wish that we were as out-and-out prideful and excited to celebrate it as those who commemorate Ghanaian Independence Day, the bursting red-white-and-blue fireworks of Fourth of July, or any other major “heritage” holiday in our country. To my fellow Black Americans, I remind you: This one is for US!

Every year on June 19, the pride of Black Americans rises to the top and nothing else matters. It’s a chance to relish in the perseverance and strength of Black people and Black culture. And it’s 24 hours to show Black pride without any hesitation—in a system where we often think twice before being our true selves.

A panoramic family shot at a recent Juneteenth

Cookouts, family reunions, street fairs, festivals, and Miss Juneteenth competitions are held across the country to celebrate. There are so many ways that people from all races can commemorate Juneteenth in 2021. Here are a few ways I’ve celebrated it before, and how I plan to keep celebrating into the future:

Posing in her Black sorority letter jacket from Delta Sigma Theta

What ways will you be celebrating this year?

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