I confess that, until a few days ago, I did not know what Juneteenth was. I’ve heard of it, but only because my calendar in my iPhone indicates it as a holiday. When I’ve come across it before, I’ve wondered about it’s meaning, but only went so far as to learn that it was an African American holiday. I confess that I stopped searching right then. The media didn’t spend much time covering it, there were no family gatherings to plan, the church office didn’t close in its observance, it wasn’t a topic of discussion among my friends. I’m white, after all. It didn’t apply to me.
In our current COVID-19 pressure cooker reality, we have seen and experienced how brokenness and injustice have bubbled over and have begun to directly impact our lives. Since George Floyd’s murder, we have all been shaken and disturbed in one way or another. Racial tensions, racial injustice, and systematic racism have been upfront and, in our faces, whether we like it or not. It’s uncomfortable, heartbreaking, divisive, maddening, confusing, and motivating – to name a few descriptors.
In recent days, I’ve been searching inward. I’ve never considered myself racist. I was born and raised in northern Durham in a diverse neighborhood. I had friends who were black, Asian, middle eastern, white, and who practiced different religions. My girl scout troop was diverse, and one of my fondest memories is sitting for hours while my black friends corn rowed my hair. We talked, we laughed, they loaded my fine hair with grease and tugged my hair until I teared up. Yet, I felt included, loved, and I felt I belonged.
When Andy and I moved to Haywood County (back, for him), I was overjoyed to be serving in this wonderful mountain community. The church is incredible. Yet, I struggled with the lack of racial diversity. It was unusual for me to be surrounded by people that looked just like me. I didn’t like it, but I also didn’t do anything about it. I was focused on settling in, learning how to serve in the church, starting a family, and building congregational relationships. Considering racism or multi-cultural ministry was something that I set aside. I confess that I thought it didn’t apply. I was wrong.
I have since learned that Juneteenth is the most popular celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States, and was first celebrated on June 19, 1865 – 2 ½ years after President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation Order. If you’d like to learn more, google “Juneteenth PBS” and I’m sure you’ll find the article I found very helpful. I’m pretty sure we didn’t cover Juneteenth in my history classes growing up. We stopped at Lincoln and the 13th amendment.
If you’re like me, these times have encouraged you to reflect deeply. I’ve yearned to learn more about myself, and learn more about how to repair and build community together. Many of you have asked if we can organize group discussions and speakers regarding racism, and we are doing just that! If your spirit is churning, consider joining us in a book study group. You’ll hear more about opportunities soon.
In Dr. Martin Luther King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here, he writes “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace….The choice is chaos or community.”