Commentary submission by Project 21
Juneteenth is the June 19 anniversary of the day in 1865 when the black residents of Galveston, Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation and their freedom. Today, its commemoration is a reason for parties and celebration nationwide.
More importantly, however, Juneteenth is a time to reflect on where we as blacks have been and a time to conduct an azimuth check on where we are going. It is a time for clarity. It is a time to count the ways in which we are free and a time to take stock of the chains that bind us still.
Juneteenth is a time to take measure of ourselves — as men, as husbands, as women, as wives and sons and daughters. It is a time to plot a course of freedom from debt, immorality and lethargy.
No one ever truly freed a man but himself, and no one ever really enslaved a man but himself. Bob Marley, the late and great reggae icon, said it best: “None but ourselves can free our minds.” With that freedom, he believed we can move on triumphantly. Obtaining freedom from physical chains is an easy task. This “free mind” thing is a little trickier.
It is unfortunate that some black bloodlines have gone from having members whose very existence was bound to a slave master to now being bound by government and to the sorrowful empathy of others for their very sustenance.
There are no chains, but is their existence truly free? If our history teaches us anything, it should be that the fullness of absolute God-given liberty should be jealously guarded. We should see any infringement on our inalienable freedoms as an infringement on the Spark of the Divine that is within us all.
Frankly, it should not have to be the Ron Pauls, Newt Gingrichs, and Ronald Reagans of the world leading us grudgingly to a future where our biblical talents can be shone freely and unencumbered. It should have been black America.
Free men do travel among us. I consider myself among them. We seek to map a better course. And, while any journey first requires an understanding of where the traveler is, its continuance requires necessary self-assessments and subsequent course corrections.
We must periodically face hard truths. Blaming others provokes nothing but pity. Blaming oneself begets little but shame. Face these truths and learn from them. There is no need to blame anyone. What’s important is knowing where we are as a people and charting a course toward a freer future.
Haven’t we outgrown the leftovers from the 1960s yet? Haven’t failed nanny states run their course? When will we truly be tired of black women having babies out of wedlock over 50 percent of the time? Isn’t it sad and pathetic that, without out-of-wedlock childbirth, the black community in America could not sustain its numbers? Aren’t we sick yet with politicians who take us for granted or sometimes ignore us? Why aren’t we more fed up yet with the club-to-church-to-club lifestyle?
I am personally tired and sick and sick and tired of seeing a worn-out old slave mentality rear its ugly head in the form of “fathers” who don’t take care of their kids, “mothers” who have kids without bothering to find and keep a husband and young people without the nurturing or self-determination to reach beyond the situations into which they were born. The list goes on.
Nonetheless, celebrate Juneteenth!
Right now is not be the time to mark this solemn commemoration with just barbeques and parties — though barbeques are never a bad thing. Instead, this is a time for calm and reasoned reflection and honest and soul-centered introspection.
R. Dozier Gray is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21.