Stories & News
Editor’s Note: Lauren Winston recently joined Health Forward as our Policy and Communications Intern. Lauren is a Kansan who currently attends Vanderbilt University where she is studying Medicine, Health and Society, as well as Human and Organizational Development.
The Holiday Season of Freedom
My first time celebrating Juneteenth was last year. I was living in Durham, North Carolina over the summer but reunited with my family for the first time since the school year started. We traveled to Newark, Delaware, the small city where my mom was raised to co-host the School Hill Juneteenth Celebration. In Newark, I met the village that raised my Mom. I was embraced by the arms of unfamiliar loved ones who first met me before I could confidently walk, or saw my mother’s face in mine before they knew my name.
I sat on the swing and saw a new generation playing among older generations – dancing to the drum line. I listened to storytellers of the community reminisce over high school photos, food, and laughter on the grounds of a familiar community center. It was beautiful.
Then there was “Independence Day” – a holiday I’ve always known. I don’t remember the first time I celebrated it, however, I do remember how my feelings towards it changed from excitement to shame to apathy.
My excitement turned to shame when I realized I was honoring a day that was supposed to represent freedom when my ancestors were not given the chance to feel freedom. It took 89 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence for the Emancipation Proclamation to end chattel slavery. Shame turned into apathy when I realized this lack of awareness was not solely my fault. In order for me to move past apathy I believe a trust needs to be rebuilt through truth telling.
We all have a role to play in understanding the truth but we must also acknowledge the institutions we trust to tell us the truth and their shortcomings in educating us. Now the only thing that draws me to this holiday are the multicolored night skies and barbecues hosted by families and friends.
This Juneteenth, I furthered my reflection and, although I found more beauty in local Kansas City celebrations, I also found frustration. I felt like I have been denied Juneteenth’s truth because of our public education system and now the attempt to make Juneteenth appealing to the masses.
Juneteenth recognizes the end of chattel slavery in the United States when Union soldiers arrived in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas to declare that people who were slaves would no longer be enslaved under the Emancipation Proclamation. The news arrived in Texas on June 19th, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. In 2021, we officially recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Juneteenth celebrates a time of united freedom from chattel slavery. However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not secure the true freedom of Black people from exploitation and oppression. This is largely because the Emancipation Proclamation was primarily a political strategy used to preserve the Union during the Civil War. Through 158 years of evolution it is clear that, although political acts are used as markers of success, intentional cultural movements are equally, if not more, valuable in shaping the trajectory of our society.
As a political strategy, the elimination of chattel slavery was described by Abraham Lincoln as an obligation to win the war. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was the political act that led to emancipation, we should recognize the abolitionist who made space for emancipation to occur. These are some of the stories missing from mainstream narratives of Juneteenth.
As we move out of our summer celebrations of Juneteenth celebrations and Independence Day, I aim to carry on the act of truth telling as a means of furthering freedom.
Embracing Truth at Health Forward Foundation
During my time as a policy and communications intern at Health Forward Foundation I can say that I feel hopeful because I am working with an organization committed to learning how to welcome the truth and encourage growth without shame. We are learning about the language we can use to address systems that perpetuate harm and debunk the myth that health is solely the responsibility of an individual. Through the KC Health Equity Learning and Action Network I have seen how taking collective responsibility for the state of our healthcare can make large stride towards health equity.
Although there is much work that needs to be done, I recognize that we are building on generations of work that are moving towards the liberation of all people. To continue this work, we must learn to critically assess the narratives we are told and question which ones are missing. The sometimes complicated or disheartening truth will help us understand what next steps are necessary to move forward. Health Forward is creating space to further our liberation by valuing the life and health of all people. As we all make the choice to participate in this process of truth telling, we should hope to grant future generations the opportunity to feel as though they can honor the work that we do now.
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