Celebrating Juneteenth: 13 Stories from Black Vocal Creators
The Vocal Team commemorates a new national holiday by acknowledging the work left to do.
In a world often starved for good news, one headline on Thursday offered cause for celebration. After passing through the U.S. Congress earlier in the week, a bill was signed into law by President Biden making June 19th, colloquially referred to as "Juneteenth," a federal holiday.
Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black Americans for over a century as the day slavery officially ended in the United States. 1863's Emancipation Proclamation had technically freed all slaves in the then-Confederacy, but the proclamation was not enforced until the end of the Civil War in April 1865. It was then left to the Union Army to travel through the American south and inform enslaved people of their freedom. Texas was the most remote of the former slaveholding states, and on June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers finally reached Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed that the enslaved people of Texas were free. For many Black Americans, Juneteenth is a much more significant celebration than other U.S. holidays, such as July 4th, and it has finally been given the same amount of recognition.
While this is exciting news, last summer's global reckoning on the legacy of slavery, systemic racism, and colonialism has made it clear that one new U.S. holiday is a ceremonial gesture and by no means a fix. James Baldwin, perhaps modern history's greatest example of harnessing creativity to fight for social change, said:
If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most!—and listens to their testimony.
Here at Vocal, we have decided the best way to both honor Juneteenth and recognize the dearth of progress still to come is to amplify Black voices from our global community of creators. These 13 stories—a number chosen in honor of the constitutional amendment that ended slavery—come from the Black Vocal community whose work has educated, entertained, and inspired us. We hope this anthology has the same effect on you.
1. Carly F.J.
As a kid I often felt pained, sad watching movies with black men, like my dad or about black stories because they seemed incessantly heavy. I was confused, because my black family and community had their strife, but there was so much fun and vibrant life.
They would make wrong the song of the Down beat.
Minds more than bodies burned and had, Too, swung.
Justice faltered at everyone that hung.
Black voices have been defined or muted by others for centuries. Technology lends us a voice, and social media teaches us a language our ancestors did not have. We have to use it. The freedom we have to choose who we are and how we are seen is a powerful thing. I want to inspire black people to create art, to step outside of their comfort zone and question what they know. To challenge the world created by others for us and to shape that world.
4. Rejy Drayton
Not to get all meta- and stuff but the only reason we allow ourselves to accept the things that we're given is that we often feel as though we don't have any other option. But what Millenials and Gen Z are learning is that an economy can thrive off free thought and the social and societal norms and conventions are just that, constructions that everyone just agreed to, they have no meaning. So, to any teachers, students, or anyone reading this. We have a lot more work to do and a lot more to learn. But never stop asking questions and speaking your opinions, it's the only way we can learn and grow together.
We will no longer bear silent wounds
The scars in our hearts are too loud
To be hushed to sleep by your oppression.
We will no longer be pushed to the ground
We will no longer cry for air to breathe.
We will breathe
We will stand
We will fight
And we will live.
All of us.
With our black faces
In these white spaces.
I notice that I find myself constantly trying to prove how strong I am, how capable I am and how independent I am. Being a Black woman means that being 'strong' is a requirement. At some point while attending Black girl orientation, we were conditioned to believe we had to be the strongest of them all and the most giving.
7. Blue Dymond
It's very important that my son sees that our people were, and are still, more than just slaves bartered and bred to be owned. It's important for him to see positive images instead of only seeing pictures of men and women being beaten, sprayed, or trampled on constantly through out our history. Instead of allowing his school to skim the surface of what it means to be black I have to make sure to drill in my son's head what black excellence really is. He doesn't understand what our people had to go through to get to the achievements that they have over the years but he can still revel and appreciate their victories.
I pouted in pictures like the other girls.
I wanted to be accepted,
But they came for my self-confidence instead.
I went home and cried to my mum.
She kissed me on the forehead with her big brown African lips and said:
“Pay no attention to bullies, show off your big brown African lips with pride.”
She wiped my tears and said:
“They are just green with envy.”
She was right.
9. Alexis Dean
One ear of my comforting headphones removed to hear unwanted danger lurking, constant pocket pats to make sure I have my wallet and ID secured, and frequent self-evaluations about whether or not I was walking too fast or too slow. The quicker pace I instinctively gained as I passed the house with an easy to be seen picture of a gun and flag by their front door, and the refused waves or smiles in return if I happened to see another early morning traveler with a different skin tone as me. Feeling invisible. And contently preferring that over “fitting a description”...
10. Tiffany FC
As a Black woman, in this country, facing all of the things we already face as women with the added bonus of being viewed as "less than" for our skin, I need a support system. I need to cry about my kids and husband to a woman that is sick of hers too. I need to hi-five and hip bump my girl when she makes her first business sale and know that she would return the favor wholeheartedly. A friend that I can count on to tell me when I'm wrong, to champion me when I'm the underdog, to check anyone speaking ill on my name in my absence, to be ready to "ride down on my baby's daddy" and his people if he does something out of pocket, one that would ride out a tank of gas helping me look for my unruly teenager and cuss him out like he came from her.
They can donate all the money they want to decry racism, but more work needs to be done. Diversity is very important and can be a game changer. Not only that, but to be paid fairly. Actions speak louder than words. They can talk the talk, but again, actions are more important than just mere words. Black people are still being paid less than whites. No one should ever settle for less, regardless of race or gender. After a year of protests, nothing much has changed. Fighting the good fight is all we can do and we’re not giving up. Not today and not ever. Black lives still matter today, tomorrow, in the future, and forever.
12. Millie Diaz
Black women are particularly vulnerable to impostor syndrome, both in the workplace and in day-to-day interactions because we are fed the idea that we don't belong. This feeling of otherness is a common occurrence across most of our interactions. It happens in stores when we’re followed around by security while shopping. It’s echoed by inadequate leaders and the people who support them. It occurs every time we turn on the TV and see Black people brutalized at the hands of those hired to protect us, with no consequences.
13. Laquesha Bailey
This was the early 2000s when being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community was still something you whispered about in hushed tones and hid relentlessly from your family and friends. There was virtually no queer representation in the media and even less so for those who happened to be queer and black (at the same time!). Black women are underrepresented in the music industry and frequently pigeonholed in musical genres labelled by the general public as "very black" or urban (which is the politically correct way to say " very black" in the music world). They are subject to harsher criticisms than their white peers, and this treatment becomes worse the darker the shade of their skin.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting Black voices and Black stories on this weekend of acknowledgement, celebration, and reflection. Let us continue to amplify those voices not just this weekend, but always.
We will leave it to the master of eloquence, James Baldwin (yes, again) to close us out:
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Have an enjoyable and educational Juneteenth.