What Juneteenth Means to Me

Since the 1800s, African Americans across the United States have celebrated the end of slavery and the beginning of their freedom. This weekend, communities across the country and in Nebraska will continue the annual tradition.

For many, Juneteenth is a day of resilience, community, food and freedom. It is a day where our Black communities look back at where we came from as well as how far we must go until we can truly feel free.

When I was growing up, I knew about Juneteenth as an important date to remember in our country’s history but didn’t attend any Juneteenth celebrations or really think about what that date meant to me as a young Black woman growing up “free.”

That’s changed over the years. This year on Juneteenth, like so many others, I’ll be reflecting on the last year and the work ahead of us.

The historic protests of last summer have been equated with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Americans from all walks of life and communities joined together to call out racist institutions, policies and practices that harm Black communities. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police was not an uncommon experience for Black communities; what made it different this time was that the entire world witnessed it. The guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, the police officer responsible for Floyd’s death, brought a measure of accountability but not justice. Justice would have been Floyd returning home safely to his family. Justice is no more names added to the list of those who have died by police violence. Justice is equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nationally and locally, we must do more to put justice in reach.

Although we may be free in comparison to where we were in the 1800s, our challenges have shifted to chains of policy, legislation and systemic racism. Until we uproot deep-seated racism in our institutions, we can never be truly free of injustice.

Yet still we celebrate because we have come so far and because we are undaunted in our work toward building a future of abundance and joy for all of us. This Juneteenth I acknowledge the work we have done and choose to celebrate the work ahead. This weekend I will root myself in community and find joy in our continued resilience regardless of what is behind us or ahead.

I feel empowered and truly honored to be a part of an organization like the ACLU of Nebraska where I can live out these values every day with the work we do in our communities, courtrooms and the legislature.

Happy Freedom Day to all in Nebraska. We will continue to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Black Nebraskans every day of the year until we can truly live in a Nebraska that is for everyone.