“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Albert Camus
Dr. Bravada Garrett Akinsanya, founder and CEO of the African American Child Wellness Institute (AACWI) admitted she would have a Moon Pie, Big Red soda pop, barbecue, and fried chicken. But the enjoyable meal represented far more than soul food. It would be a time to celebrate, honor, and remember our ancestors who introduced us to the mouth-watering cuisine through generations.
“I was the little Black girl growing up in a small town in Texas who was devastated when I found out the “colored only” restrooms weren’t colors of pinks, yellows, and blues. I remember crying to my mama that ‘those people’ lied’. The water at the “colored only” water fountain wasn’t colored either. And then it took me years to figure out that Black kids didn’t sit in the balcony of a movie theater just because they chose to do so. We couldn’t sit on the main floor. That was Jim Crow,” Dr. B. said.
The two victories this past week, Jubilee and the saving of Obamacare would have made the late Congressman John Lewis so proud. From this year forward on every June 19th, the world will be reminded of America’s greatest sin and perhaps be encouraged to share and heal and pray we can all come together and move forward in making our country whole.
On Thursday, June 17th, Minnesota Senator Tina Smith was among a distinguished gathering at the White House witnessing President Joe Biden sign the Juneteenth National Independence Act (Jubilee) into legislation as a federal holiday. Led by Senator Smith and her colleagues, Democrats Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday, led by Democratic House Representative Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas.
Senator Smith said “I fought to make Juneteenth a national holiday because it’s important to mark it as a celebration, a day of reflection, and a day of rededication to the cause of racial justice in this country. I am forever grateful to the generations of activists who made this possible. I especially want to thank Ms. Opal Lee who at 89 years old walked halfway across the country to raise support to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”
Now 94, the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ realized her dream as she too watched President Biden sign the bill into law. This law is an important step though we have much further to go on the path towards justice, Smith said. “Let’s use this victory for the systemic change we need like protecting voting rights, safeguarding our democracy, passing meaningful policing and criminal justice reform, pursuing economic and environmental justice, and working towards a more just and equitable world,” she said.
Zoey Severson, LPC at Brakins Consulting and Psychological Services and a LPN, ‘Conversations’ host, and other Circle participants worried that the new celebration and upcoming 4th of July observances might not all be peaceful and safe due to the surge in gun violence.
“The weather is hotter, people are cooking outside, and they might be drinking more. COVID, the lockdowns, and the losses in livelihoods have brought mental health to the forefront once more. There are triggers that can quickly cause angst. For example,” she said, “fireworks can remind veterans of the battlefield. And seniors and animals are often frightened by the loud gunshot-like sounds, and the possibility of fire.”
Tenanye Heard, is a peer counselor and life coach at AACWI. “I hear the same thing from most of my clients. ‘Why are people so excited about this holiday? It took two and a half years for Blacks in Texas to learn they were free. Why would we celebrate Independence Day when we haven’t been liberated from the inequities and injustices that have stripped our opportunities and joy for 400 years? It’s better, but true freedom has proven elusive for generations. Justice and equity are not complete,” Heard said.
Heard said she knows about the holes in people’s hearts.
Telling her own story helps her heal and helps others as well.
She said in 2007, her young, late husband, was murdered by an 18-year-old at a bus stop. He was on his way to work, She said her husband was “the kind of person that never hesitated to be concerned for and to help others.”
She fights to keep that legacy alive through her work.
Eventually, she met with the homeless, desperate, and broken young man who killed her husband.
And in time, she discovered forgiveness.
Heard also told of the compounding tragedy of losing two adult children in their sleep.
Heard’s revelation, Al McFarlane said, came with an angelic peace. “There is something angelic, the presence of the Divine in your storytelling right now that is teaching us about strength, resilience, perseverance and compassion,” McFarlane said.
Heard said her own story guides her as she sees clients who have suffered more loss than imaginable through the pandemic or unforeseen violence.
“Tell your story,” said Severson. “The energy it brings in releasing some of the pain is a step forward, I had such great role models in my parents, and other family members who served others in their neighborhoods and throughout the Minneapolis communities. I’m so proud when I run into people who knew my mom and dad, who were also therapists, and would comment, ‘Oh, I knew your parents. Your dad helped me, or your mom talked to me, and that has been years ago.’ I’d also watch how pleased my mom was at the end of her sessions when she knew she might have been able to help someone else.”
“Today, more than ever, coming together with family and friends safely and peacefully is so important. We’ve been isolated for 15 months. It’s time for positive re-examination and perhaps a change of attitude in how we reflect on our responsibilities for and possibilities to ourselves; our children; and our neighbors spiritually, physically, and emotionally,” Severson said. Telling her own story, Severson said she was born with a disease that medical experts predicted would give her maybe 20 years of life. She said telling personal stories, testimonies, propel us us to find a way out of no way, and to fulfill a purpose by helping others do the same.
Nodding to Dr. Akinsanya’s Texas roots, McFarlane asked, “How do we use the Juneteenth Federal Holiday, this historic moment that calls attention to our country’s genocidal crimes against humanity, to advance dignity, democracy, equity?”
Dr. B responded, “None of us will be free until we all are free. Not until little Black boys and Black girls can walk down the street, even if they’re drinking a can of tea, eating a bag of Skittles, and wearing a black hoodie, without losing their lives to a bullet from a gun of a police officer or their own brother or sister.”
“We’ve got to work on our own freedom and acknowledge that we have to do things differently. We must save ourselves and save the world. The ruin of a nation begins at home. We can free ourselves by loving each other as brothers and sisters. We have a commonplace. There is no room for gangs and guns. Let’s allow light to break through this darkness… the light of love, peace, and understanding.”
And, she said, “It’s time for reparations.”