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On June 19th - half a month prior to Independence Day - Galveston residents who had been slaves learned they were free and celebrated this jubilant news on what has since been known as Juneteenth Day. This holiday provides us with the opportunity to examine what freedom means in America and who benefits from it, reminding us that its promises have yet to be fully realized for all of its recipients. Origins Juneteenth marks the emancipation of African Americans from American chattel slavery and is celebrated annually on June 19th - marking when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to inform enslaved people they were free. Granger's announcement took place nearly two years after President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation and six months before ratification of the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery nationwide. Juneteenth has always been celebrated in various forms and places around the country, though its early days saw community gatherings featuring food, music and religious elements such as prayer, song and dance. Parades have often been an integral component of Juneteenth celebrations. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, Black communities across the nation adopted this holiday to mark freedom and renew hope. This celebration was reinforced through work of the Freedmen's Bureau, the passage of 13th Amendment legislation and black-run government formation during this period known as Reconstruction. Over time, as African Americans moved across the country and struggled for civil rights, observances of Juneteenth fell. But during the 1960s, Black activists revived it to show solidarity with fellow activists fighting for equal rights - helping people connect current struggles to those from years past and remain aware that equality remains elusive. Today, this day is celebrated as Juneteenth, National Freedom Day, African American Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day - each holiday celebrating African Americans, recalling our nation's rich history and inspiring and motivating individuals and families to strive for excellence. Juneteenth has come to represent what freedom means - the freedom to create one's own family, neighborhood, community and future; seeking happiness wherever possible and leaving our children and grandchildren the same opportunities available here in America. Celebrations As we commemorate Juneteenth for its 158th year this Juneteenth, more organizations than ever are organizing commemorative events to remember and pay respects to enslaved people and their descendants. Events range from family-friendly festivals and parades, step contests and beauty pageants, 5K races and marathons; traditional celebrations as well as discussions around issues related to race such as police brutality and mass incarceration are being hosted across communities that commemorate Juneteenth. Once freed from slavery, former slaves worked tirelessly to rebuild their communities and claim their heritage in spite of uncertainty. They battled for family reunion, school construction and political representation while pushing radical legislation and seeking compensation from slaveholders for any oppressive or violent treatment they received; all while remaining resilient in face of oppressive and violent treatment and hoping to build better futures for themselves and their children. Success of post-emancipation period was unparalleled, yet difficult. White Americans continued their long tradition of terrorizing newly freed Blacks through acts such as lynchings, Jim Crow laws, segregation and prison industrial complex. Even after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. Although Juneteenth lost some momentum over time, its celebration was rejuvenated in 2020 by nationwide protests demanding racial justice and widespread efforts to make Black Lives Matter a national day of action. It is anticipated that this year will bring increased recognition at both federal and local levels. Although it has been difficult, enslaved people are slowly being recognized through increasing recognition as national holidays. Teachers use this event as an opportunity to teach about slavery's legacy in America and highlight Black people's resilience; parents may take this chance to discuss with their children the necessity of racial equity in society while emphasizing understanding and combatting any form of racism. Companies can also recognize this holiday by hosting events, offering paid time off or acknowledging it through communications. For instance, Green-Wood Cemetery in New York City will host a Juneteenth Celebration (Opens external link), complete with music, food and family-friendly activities - featuring performances by Harlem School of the Arts Dance's Freedom Moves performance and tours available of African Burial Ground. Symbolism Juneteenth is an event with deep roots in community and family life, yet has expanded into an event which draws thousands each year from all walks of life to participate in parades, street fairs, music festivals, political events, pageants and parties to mark this important holiday. Juneteenth is celebrated annually in 47 states and DC; many communities hold events that support, celebrate and learn about Black history culture and life during Juneteenth celebrations. While these activities differ significantly from grassroots celebrations prior to Congress declaring June 19th a federal holiday back in 1979 it's important to note that as Juneteenth's popularity increases so does concern about commercialism arising as it grows exponentially - particularly as Congress decided this holiday was created as well. After 1865, newly freed African Americans in Texas held the inaugural celebrations of Jubilee Day, later spreading throughout the nation as African Americans moved around and spread this tradition. Texas later recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday and others followed suit - marking one of America's defining historical moments as well as commemorating ongoing efforts for freedom and equality through celebrating Juneteenth each year. Juneteenth's symbolism includes the white star on a flag, representing both Texas (known as Lone Star State ) and how slavery was abolished throughout America. Additionally, its outline represents a "nova," or new life and opportunities. Red, white and blue colors of the flag reflect those found on our American flag and serve as a powerful reminder that enslaved Africans were also Americans. Juneteenth serves not just to commemorate our independence as Black people but as an opportunity for all people of African heritage to remember that freedom and justice remain central parts of living up to the true promise of America. Commercialism Since Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday last year, businesses have utilized it as an opportunity to promote products with a Black theme, including food such as barbecue and cornbread. While this strategy can help businesses reach out to a new audience, some initiatives have had adverse reactions; for instance a children's museum received criticism for serving fried chicken and watermelons at its Juneteenth event; Black consumers became angry when they discovered their trademarked Juneteenth ice cream is produced by a company with artificial flavoring capabilities. Companies celebrating Juneteenth must recognize its true meaning, rather than using it as a marketing opportunity. Companies should make a commitment to researching its history and hiring employees who can educate colleagues and customers about its significance. Furthermore, Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equity among Black people that continues even today. Prior to becoming a federal holiday, Juneteenth was observed by communities throughout America; however, its national prominence wasn't realized until 2020 with George Floyd's murder sparking national dialogue on race relations and inspiring a movement to commemorate Juneteenth--which represents freedom, independence and liberation regardless of ancestry or creed. One reason is that until recently, few outside the black community mentioned February 14 as an official state holiday. Furthermore, America's sanitized history allows blind patriotism which overlooks our ancestors' suffering while maintaining an illusionary notion of America as "land of the free and home of the brave". Black Americans are taking full advantage of this moment in history to demand more from both themselves and the government, whether that means protesting police brutality or petitioning President Biden for an executive order commission to investigate reparations claims. We should all do what we can to support their efforts and work towards creating a better tomorrow.