Hold the history of racial injustice that preceded Juneteenth in your right hand. With your left hand, invite your imagination into experiencing the hope that Juneteenth offered people that have been enslaved. Imagine it’s June 19, 1865. What do you smell? See? Feel? You look over the horizon, 2,000 soldiers, some with the same complexion and features that you have. You feel elated. Now, the freedoms provided by your bondage are now accessible to you. But, that feels like fantasy. How can you experience the same prosperity of those that kept you in bondage when it was your enslavement that created their status. You wonder, what does your freedom mean for them? Not just your self-identified master, but those that benefited from a way of life that was created by bondage and toils of you and your ancestors.
You question how freedom will impact ideas and behaviors that defined who has the power to enslave. You later learn that the message of your freedom was late. You also learn that the pain of your bondage seems to only be felt by people like you, and that the power to oppress was a protected right, despite new found freedom. Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, you have been working for free for anywhere between 2.5 years and six months with no pay. There is no structure presented to give you what is owed beyond something that should have always been a human right. Freedom. The question: ‘what does your freedom mean when it was actively taken away?’ crosses your mind. And then you’re told by way of Order Number three, you shall remain where you are, and be employed by your previous enslaver.
⅗ of a human is now criminalized and perceived deficient you are told to not remain idle and have vagrancy laws in place to control your labor. This disparate value system that is protected by law has historically defined race relations. It is also used to shape equality to suit the comfort to oppress. Now, allow your understanding to shape your imagination of what that looks like today. Education, experience, professional networks, all categories of disparity that reflect racial domination. If we are able to understand how the devaluation of Black labor persists in Corporate America, we have a better chance of interrupting intentional efforts that reproduce disparity. We can place new measurement systems that place value on compensating for disparity through the creation of cross-cultural competencies. Changing the way we place value on the experience and measurements of success to be inclusive allows us to experience life and community in ways that the corporate world can only imagine.
If our celebration of Juneteenth reflects that imagination, we can create the world of our dreams. A world that our ancestors fought and died for. Now open your left hand. Bridging the distance between freedom and struggle begins with embracing their coexistence and responding to struggles with empathetic and intentional efforts. How will you celebrate Juneteenth? How will you participate in this historic journey for freedom?