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Happy Juneteenth, y’all! It was on June 19, 1865 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that slaves were to be freed. This was two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation stating that slaves in Confederate States must be liberated. In honor of this momentous occasion that celebrates the emancipation of our ancestors (aka the real Independence Day), REVOLT and the NAACP pulled together an all-star “Juneteenth Black Family Reunion” that included the best and brightest Black celebrities, political pundits, and tastemakers for the ultimate observance of Blackness.
Our hashtag for today’s event minced no words: #WeAreDoneDying. Juneteenth has never been a nationally recognized holiday. However, the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Auberey, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks have sparked a sense of urgency to end systemic racism once and for all. They’ve also made us reflect on the past while recognizing that Juneteenth is part of a history that continues to be sidelined in this country. True to our name, REVOLT is leading the charge to put Black people first on this special day.
Below are the 10 special moments from the “Juneteeth Black Family Reunion” special in partnership with the NAACP.
1. Kicking off our Juneteenth celebration, DJ Mal-Ski put us in the spirit with a dope set, playing old and new school jams. Afterwards, Captain Kirk Douglas of The Roots gave us a tear jerking guitar performance of “Lift Every Voice And Sing.”
2. Comedian and actor Deon Cole shares a special message advocating for Juneteenth to become a nationally recognized holiday every year moving forward. “They got Columbus day, we should have Juneteeth,” he says. Cole also celebrated those with boots on the ground rallying for change. “This is going to be a fad to everyone else,” he continues. “We can’t allow them to make us feel bad for the voices we’re raising in order to make change. We need to talk and be heard on all platforms.” He also suggests the NAACP make a “whose the Blackest this year” award for the next ceremony.
3. Bishop T.D. Jakes addresses the turbulent times we’re living in from COVID-19 aka “the invisible disease” to being in social isolation to witnessing the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Aubery on camera. “Now is the time to take the great work that’s been done on the streets around the world and catapult ourselves from that great work to implement change,” said the bishop. “Now is the time to take our weapons and refuse to use them on each other.” He also encourages preachers, hip hop artists, teachers, senators, mayors and all of our thought leaders to form a cohesive strength that reminds America of its responsibility to all its citizens. Jakes even reminds us not to just tweet and comment our rage, but get out and vote.
4. NAACP Board Of Director Leon W. Russell explains why Juneteenth is so pressing this year compared to past years. “We need to talk about the twin pandemics affecting us: COVID-19 and police brutality,” he says. In 2020, he declares we are done dying. “We must be a nation that realizes we cannot except not one more George Floyd. Not one more Breonna Taylor. Not one more Ahmaud Arbery. Not one more Rayshard Brooks.”
5. Celebrities speak out for change: Larenz Tate explains the power of five. “Do you know five people you can influence to vote?” he asks. Whoopi Goldberg makes an appearance to remind us that hard work is still ahead, but change is so near. “We’ve never been sleep, so we don’t need to be woke,” she says. “But, we do need to recognize what we want and be prepared to fight to get it. Get ready ‘cause change is coming.” Loni Love says she didn’t discover what Juneteenth was until attending an HBCU. She encourages corporate America to celebrate and acknowledge Juneteenth as a holiday, too. Logan Browning believes that Black people in this country are raised to survive, and we deserve to thrive. “When will we truly be liberated?” she asks. Singer Ledisi encourages Black people to take care of your physical and mental health. You cannot complete things if you don’t take care of yourself.” Yara Shahidi said, “The moment that isn’t lost on me is the beauty of us coming together and of our power.” Jenifer Lewis aka “the mother of Hollywood” says as she shows up in all her glory to bring that authentic family reunion feel. “It’s time for us to love harder than we’ve ever loved before,” she reminds us. Her t-shirt with the lyrics to “Get Your Knee Of Our Necks” is available for purchase and will go to organizations supporting Black rights.
6. The “We Are The Fathers” panel provided a safe space for four Black dads to have a candid conversation about raising Black boys in this climate. A father named Darren Mullen said this is the most difficult time to give his kids an answer about police brutality because he struggles to find an answer himself. His 8-year-old son asked if it was God’s plan for George Floyd to die, which he struggled with replying to. He also reconciled that Floyd’s death was the catalyst that sparked change in this country. Tirrell Whittley says, “As we see [police shootings] happening, we are not OK and I had to become honest with that.” He also feels sorry for his daughter, whose graduation year is 2020. “It has been marred from top to bottom with nothing, but disappointment,” Mullen adds. Leroy Lawry was in school during the March On Washington. He remembers the diversity and peace that followed. He doesn’t believe racism will ever go away entirely, but hopes that the younger generation will achieve a permanent solution to police brutality.
7. The “We Are The Mothers” panel was just as enriching. Four Black mothers came together for an honest chat about what it’s like raising black children. “Our kids are different,” says Kimberly Jenkins. “They see all the injustices that are just a click away for them. We didn’t have a chance to see everything. It was handed down to us through storytelling. They’re responding to what they’re exposed to.” D’Angela Proctor’s son is an intern on the social justice team at YouTube, where she says he’s schooling his colleagues. “When you have a seat at the table, exercise your right at that table,” she tells him. “That’s more powerful than walking in a protest.” Tenee Hawkins is the daughter of a retired Washington D.C. police officer. She’s had conversations with her children about being law abiding citizens, but when they see the killing of people who look like them, there is a psychological effect. She’s taught her son advocacy, but also feels conflicted as she’s asked him not to go out to protests. Marjorie Kinard says she’s raising her kids and grandkids to look white people in the eye, even though she was raised to do the opposite. “Its a totally different era,” she said.
8. Tiffany Dena Loftin, Director of the NAACP Youth And College Division, says, “Voting is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.” We have to use everything in our toolkit to reach equality. She advises Black people to take today to celebrate and love each other, and then hit the streets to continue to fight.
9. Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of NAACP, says we must stand together to have peaceful protests and ensure structural racism is addressed. He encourages us to move to the next level, which is the voting booth. #WeAreDoneDying is a hashtag formed by the NAACP, and he calls it our rallying cry. “November is an opportunity to stand together and impact public policy,” says Johnson. He’s also pleased that the protests around the world are being attended by people of all colors — a sign that people recognize the urgency. “Not only are we done dying, we are ready to live and we must seize it now,” he powerfully adds.
10. Black Town Hall With Angela Rye: There was a wealth of inspiration that came from the town hall hosted by Angela Rye, who was joined by panelists Cari Chapman, Kiana Lede, Jon Batiste and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. Chapman says she’s glad that the world is waking up to the “isms” we have to end, but a part of her feels a way that Juneteenth is now a work holiday. “I have all my white friends texting me that they’re off because it’s a work holiday,” she says. “This was something special that was known to us, and I did want to keep it part of the family. But now that we have their attention, it’s time to educate.” Batiste says he’s happy that Juneteenth is being celebrated on a national scale, but says we must also process the trauma that slavery and oppression has left us with as a people. Johnson says it’s important to challenge the entertainment industry to have Black talent behind the camera as much as they are in front of it to make sure we are portrayed in the right light. “How they portray us on the screen is how we’re treated in the streets,” he says. Johnson also explains that protests, voting and policy are all part of the 360 approach to change. “When we fight as a people, we win,” he adds. Lede says her job as a creator is to emote, and that her platform is being used to draw attention back to the leaders of the movement. That’s why the proceeds to her song, “Dear Mr. President” are going back to the NAACP Empowerment Programs that fight against issues like police brutality.