EmpireMission and Culture

Juneteenth

by Major Steve Carroll

I celebrated Juneteenth for the first time 21 years ago while finishing an Urban Youth Worker internship at the Roxbury Salvation Army in Massachusetts. I naively believed that growing up in urban and West Indian communities around people who did not look like me had earned me an African American education. I thought that my experience alone gave me something to offer these children, most of whom were living in a family shelter. I was wrong.

First came the assignment: “For our end of the school year party I’d like you to plan a Juneteenth observance.” My supervisor was excited that my last day fell on June 19th.

“What is Juneteenth?” I asked, confused. Then, the seven-year-old whom I had been tutoring all year looked up and ‘schooled’ me. “Juneteenth is when slavery ended;” he explained.

Still confused, I asked, “You mean when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation?”

By this point, my student was convinced that I was ‘pulling his leg.’ “No, silly, that’s when they said slavery was over. Slavery wasn’t really over until there weren’t any more slaves.”

I smiled at my student-turned-teacher and said, “I think I’m going to need your help planning this party.” Together, we planned a party with both fun and learning for all of us. On my last day, I went to work dressed as a Union general and declared the end of slavery to a room full of cheering children (interesting subway ride that morning).

Many of my peers are just now learning about Juneteenth. The Salvation Army, like many other organizations and businesses, has included Juneteenth in our list of official holidays for the first time. Before planning a trip to the beach, consider observing Juneteenth, even if you are not a person of color. The end of slavery is a milestone that all Americans should celebrate. If you are uncomfortable dressing up as a Union general, below are ten other ways that you can honor Juneteenth this year:

  1. Search, discover, and attend a local observance.
  2. Visit nearby anti-racism related historical attractions.

The entire country was involved in slavery, so significant places are all around. Afterward, dialogue with others about what was eye-opening.

  1. Purchase from Black-owned businesses and restaurants.

Seek exposure to new cultural experiences and new foods and visit independent stores in predominantly black neighborhoods. Reflect on your feelings.

  1. Volunteer.

Volunteering usually benefits you more than the people you serve. Let the experience change you.

  1. Watch a movie that explores themes of slavery and white supremacy.

You could even form a discussion group around a movie or series such as PBS’s The African Americans, Netflix’s 13th, or Paramount’s Selma.

  1. Encourage black voices on social media.

Encouragement is not the same as politics. You do not have to agree to let someone know that you listen to and appreciate them.

  1. Find a class that explores topics of racism, then sign up and show up to engage in learning.
  2. Select and read a book.

Not just heady political stuff but poetry, fiction, and history.

  1. Listen to some great music by Black artists.

Here’s a little playlist: Louis Armstrong’s version of “Black and Blue;” “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday; “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley. Explore.

  1. Take a break.

My friend Charles asserts that self-care is essential to anti-racism work. If we don’t process the tension and seek to understand what is going on around us, we begin to internalize the emotions and stress and become physically unhealthy.

Major Stephen Carroll, Jr. and his wife Major Delia Carroll serve as Commanding Officers of the Salvation Army—Niagara Falls Corps. You can reach him at stephen.carrolljr@use.salvationarmy.org.