Reflecting on Juneteenth
Reflecting on Freedom in America
One month ago today (7.19.21), on Juneteenth, we asked you to join us in nature for 2.5 hours and reflect on the question, “what does freedom in American mean to you?” So many of you took to nature to reflect and many of you shared your reflections with us.
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 2021 hundreds of people around the United States joined us outdoors in commemoration of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is an annual recognition of the moment when 250,000 enslaved Black Americans in Galveston Texas were told they were free in the year 1865 – 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect – January 1, 1863.
Many accounts of history appear to leave out the “how and why.” How was it possible for President Abraham Lincoln to draft and sign an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in September 1862 and despite the three months until it took effect, no one told the enslaved?
- Why didn’t the slave holders tell the enslaved?
- Why didn’t the sheriff tell the enslaved?
- Why didn’t the mayor tell the enslaved?
- Why didn’t the governor tell the enslaved?
What You Shared
I was able to celebrate Juneteenth with my granddaughter at Egmont Key National Refuge in Crystal River, Fl. We spent a wonderful three hours enjoying the beautiful island beach. As I approach the age of eighty, feeling so blessed and grateful for my life, I realize as Dr. King said that “None of us is free until all of us are free.”
“Reflecting on the meaning Juneteenth, I have always had mixed feelings about it. As Black person, I did not learn about the day until I was an adult. Also, in a black family where we often remember the emancipation in April and learning about Juneteenth for the first time as an adult made me scratch my head. That is because I felt it was celebrating the fact that Texas could no longer lie to its enslaved population and seemed out of place. But I also have learned to appreciate and grow in understanding about the significance of the day. It also can now be a day to reflect on how far we need to go and to not take small victories for granted.
“Resilience-like the mighty trees and the water appearing still, but moving and providing a reflection of everything, beautiful souls grew strong and never stagnant-so is the freedom that our ancestors desired, somewhat achieved. Freedom now is the chance to grow strong without fear of another cutting you down because “you’re in their way to getting what equally belongs to all”. Freedom is the peace and tranquility reflected back to anyone looking at our society -no muddied waters or distorted reflections.”
“I spent a few hours at a park reflecting about what Juneteenth means to me. I marvel at how resilient we are as a people. Our ancestors endured the imaginable. I’m grateful to be living and choosing joy and rest as resistance on this day.”
“While I was unable to spend time outside on 6/19, I made up for it today, 6/20, in an event I partook in called WINGS, Women in Nature Gaining Skills. With a group of 17 awesome gals, we SUP’d on a small lake in Bloomington, IN. Some gracefully floated, some swerved, some tracked straight and fast and others sat back and relaxed. No matter the experience level, paddling preference, or personal identity, we all supported one another with a common purpose out on the lake today – to enjoy nature with other women. Spending time outdoors with like-minded individuals, and sometimes also alone, is where I begin my reflection. The element of time and how we choose to spend it is an incredible source of freedom, and to me, it’s one of the most treasured parts of being free in America. The choice to decide what you want to do during those evening or after-work hours, and going out and doing it while feeling welcome, safe, and supported – that matters. Today, I felt free to make my choice to spend time doing SUP yoga. I felt supported by these other women and thankful I could be a part of the experience, and hope the Program helped each participant feel welcome in the space and grow in their relationship with the outdoors.”
“To me, being able to spend time outside, and just “be”, is what it means to be free in America. To be able to make my own choices, about myself, my body, and my time is an incredible freedom. I chose to spend Juneteenth outdoors and just be, listening to the trees blow in the breeze and feel the sun shine down on me. Freedom of choice, to just be.”
“ This is the first year I’ve formally celebrated Juneteenth. But something told me months ago that creating my own long-weekend writing retreat would free me from the unfinished manuscript I’d been dragging in my wake for the past several years. My back-country weekend has given me much more than that, though. The outdoors has always been my sanctuary and soothing balm–a socially acceptable form of solitude for an introvert like me. But this weekend– in the wake of last year’s social justice awakening and this new federal holiday–this Juneteenth weekend has made me appreciate what has brought me to this place. For my family and friends, for my education and opportunities, for the many other freedoms I enjoy, I have walked and remembered and embraced the outdoors this weekend as a symbol of the unlimited potential of life.”
“Today is a day brimming with celebration in our community of Oak Park Illinois-our first bike tour of important black history, influencers, and achievement. Our family learned a new perspective on the history here and are richer for it. The historic narrative has changed and the current one and current black experience is slowly changing here.”
To be free in America is to be humbled by our past and committed to improving our future as a nation. It requires being open to admitting that we are a deeply flawed nation, a deeply flawed people but to have hope and determination that we can do a whole lot better. To be free in America requires that we the people allow everyone to stand in their truth and speak their truth. It means being more curious than afraid, more humble than defensive, more compassionate than aggressive, more united than divided. Is it to understand that this democracy is fragile? Is it an experiment that we must remain engaged in bettering and strengthening?
As a non-black person of color, freedom in what is now called the United States means liberation and shalom (wholeness) for all of our human and non-human relatives, particularly our black relatives. For healing to be supported and pursued for us to be in right relationship with each other, ourselves, and Creation.
I spent 2 1/2 hours in a nearby forest riding my bicycle and reflected on how fortunate I am to not have to fear for my safety while spending time in the outdoors due to me being a white male. I have often thought about how it is different for women, but not for people of color until this past year. I will continue to discuss this with people I know in hopes of bringing about awareness. I also reflected on the enslaved people of Galveston and how after they were set “free”, they basically had the clothes on their body, likely no home, no money, and living in a part of the country that was hostile towards them. It is pretty much impossible for me to know what they went through. Brutal, sums it up. My mind rotates in thinking that the U.S enslaved people for 246 years! Not only that, this country was far harsher to the enslaved than happened over history in other parts of the world. As I typed this, I just now had the realization that I let out a verbal sigh. A minuscule act on my part, but a firm realization to how messed up humans have treated and continue to treat fellow humans, simply based upon the color of their skin. It is frustrating how far we have to go to make some amends. I will continue to work to educate myself on our racial past and do my best to be an ally. I know as a white male I have been provided a lot of opportunities that are simply denied to others that aren’t white male. Thank you for being a part in bringing about my awareness, – Warm regards, Chris
While out riding my bike, I reflected on what my freedom means to me. My freedom to practice my religion, free speech, buy a house, and spend time outside riding my bike, walking my dogs, visiting friends with no fear. My hope is that we all spend time thinking about how lucky we are and how we can help others be free to pursue their passions.
I spent the day with my family thinking about how beautiful it was to be in one another’s company surrounded by nature and love. I thought about how it must have felt for those enslaved individuals that waited so long for their freedom to feel that same joy on their own terms. It made me feel incredibly grateful to know that the freedom I experience today draws a direct line to those enslaved individuals that fought for it then. I look back at the history of Juneteenth with humbled admiration for the strength, love, and righteousness those folks faced each day with, and pray that I can reflect those characteristics in even the smallest of ways as an example to my son, on how not to repeat one of our nation’s most grave injustices and approach each day with love and an open heart towards others.
I felt so fortunate to be able to have leisure time outdoors in this free country, and reflected on those who were forced to labor (outdoors) to make this country what it is today.
The more I do the work of anti-racism and decolonization, the more I understand that “freedom” is shackled here in America. It is encouraging to look back and witness progress in our country, but in a place that was founded on slavery, white supremacy, and genocide, there is endless work to be done progressively so that “freedom” is equitable. In the meantime, as we work to obtain this goal, we can feel freedom.
Having the empathy and courage to take action and support others when we see an imbalance within the social scales. Having the freedom to collectively fight so that silenced voices resonate loudly. Striving for everyone to have the same access, opportunities and privileges; regardless of how we look, where we come from, how we identify or what we believe in.
I spent the day with my family at Jordan Lake Park in Apex, North Carolina, with the Outdoor Afro Raleigh/Durham Network. I reflected on how strong Black Americans are because of our ancestors and that we need to own and recognize our strength. However, our Ancestors chose to survive the brutality of being enslaved; the future generations are stronger because of their sacrifices. Whether after being enslaved, they jumped off the slave ship, worked on the plantation, worked in the slave house, or escaped, we are stronger because their blood runs through our veins. May the atrocities