Celebrating Juneteenth—What Does it Mean to be Free?

Juneteenth commemorates the approximate day when the last enslaved persons were set free in America. The news of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not reach all folks in bondage overnight, and some slavemasters even withheld the information until after harvest season. Galveston, Texas was the last place the news of Freedom and the passage of the 13th amendment was shared as Federal troops came and read general Order number 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

As we celebrate Juneteenth 157 years later, we have the opportunity to reflect on the legacy of freedom—for us, to our fellow brothers and sisters, and to the world. When Black men, women, and children left plantations, some found their loved ones and began new thriving lives. They found ways to purchase land, use their African ingenuity to design and build vibrant communities, and design necessary gadgets that fueled American civilization—an expression of their experience of freedom in America. But there were those who believed that it was not right for them to live well. How could those that were once treated as chattel now thrive? Thus the legacy of racial terror, organized violence, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, redlining, and overcriminalization of Black Folks in America continues to this day.

So what does it really mean to be free?

At Spearitwurx, we believe deeply in the concept of Ubuntu—or “I am because we are.” We all have a role to play in freedom, and our liberation is interconnected with humanity and the planet. We believe that freedom—as well oppression, joy, and connection—are experienced at three levels: internal, interpersonal, and institutional.

Internal freedom beckons us to reflect on who were are and what we value. What do we hold in our hearts and minds as the truth? What do we tell ourselves in those moments of stillness? Are we our own worst enemy or our biggest supporter? Do we believe we are worthy of freedom and love? Liberation at the internal level helps us break free from our own internalized oppression to shine and thrive as the fullest expression of ourselves.

Our Interpersonal freedom helps us reflect on the quality of our relationships and change relationships from being transactional to being transformative connections. We are more than just what we can buy or sell to one other, more than just what we produce. We must treat each other as valuable lives invested in rebuilding trust and the collective power in the People as our highest expression of humanity.

As we grow personally and interpersonally, we then have the opportunity to create liberated institutions that don’t replicate oppressive and toxic conditions, that don’t hoard power or resources, but honor the interconnectedness of people as we collaborate to help humanity thrive. Institutions are run by people, and it will take the earnest and authentic work of good-hearted folks to dismantle policies of inequity and shift resources to improve community sustainability. Let’s create ways of operating that align with our highest human values, so that we all thrive, expressing our best selves while supporting the needs of the masses of people. This is liberation in practice.

As we honor Juneteenth and the legacy of those who dreamed of creating a better world, let us be “our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” and let us embrace the power and responsibility of internal, interpersonal, and institutional freedom. Let us be the change we want to see in the world. Let us live and love freely. I am because we are! All-One!

Photo courtesy of Spiritwurx

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Spearitwurx is an Oakland-based organization co-created by the husband-and-wife team, Sizwe Andrews-Abakah and Mizan Alkebulan-Abakah, MPH. Our mission is to inspire intergenerational Wellness & racial healing. We “create experiences to transform lives” through cultural events, conferences, professional development workshops, and intergenerational wellness coaching for schools, organizations, businesses, and governments.

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