When the Sun comes back
And the first quail calls
Follow the Drinking Gourd,
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom
If you follow the Drinking Gourd
-Follow the Drinking Gourd
According to Juneteenth.com, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society (www.juneteenth.com).
Unfortunately, today in the African-American community we do not teach and is not aware of our history. For over 200 years, African-Americans were enslaved in North America and after the Emancipation Proclamation it took another 100 years for African-Americans to receive basic Civil and Voting Rights. The question that faced newly freed slaves still exist to this day, and that question is: Where do we go from here?
The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009. 72% of African-American children are raised in single parent homes. HIV/AIDS and homicide are two of the leading causes of death in the African-American community. The U.S. Bureau of Justice estimated that as of 2008, there were over 846,000 black men in prison, making up 40.2 percent of all inmates in the system. Author Michelle Alexander put those numbers in grave historical perspective when he noted: “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began”. Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys (Trip Gabriel)”.
Those stats are startling, but they are not irreversible. The key to reversing those trends lay within African-Americans. African-Americans must realize the importance of family. We cannot continue to have ¾ of our children raised by single parents and expect them to overcome the hurdles of life. Having a mother and father at home is critical to a child’s development and future success. Children from a strong family structure are more likely to excel academically, keeping them off the streets, out of prison, and placing them in a position to succeed.
One of the most important hurdles African-Americans must overcome is realizing that they are free now. Yes, prejudice and institutional racism does exist, but they can be overcome with hard work and dedication. Too many of us give up when things get hard, but what would have happened if abolitionists like Frederick Douglas would have given up? What would have happened if W.E.B Du Bois had given up? What would have happened if A. Philip Randolph, Mary McCloud Bethune, Dorothy Height, Medgar Evers, and Dr. King had given up? We cannot afford to give up, not now, after we have overcome so much.
So, on this Juneteenth, let’s reflect and remember our history and heritage. We have come too far to hand our future over to Lil Wayne, “Basketball Wives” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”.