Ever since I was a young girl, I “celebrated” Juneteenth, but it wasn't until recently that I began to really notice its importance and why people actually acknowledge it. You see, when it comes to Juneteenth, there are two kinds of people – those who groan about why it's even a day of celebration in the first place, and those who wish it was an observed national holiday. I used to be the first kind of person, because I misunderstood the day and the significance it has on American Black history.
I’m sure many of you can relate to being misunderstood. Growing up, I wasn’t always the easiest to understand (and if you ask the people who are closest to me, I’m still not), but the beauty of growing older is that I have become wiser and I've learned more about myself and about life than I could’ve comprehended years before.
The beauty of growing older is that I have become wiser and I've learned more about myself and about life than I could’ve comprehended years before.
I grew up in Round Rock, Texas, a suburb eighteen miles outside of Austin. Growing up, Round Rock was consistently ranked among the safest places to live in the United States, and it's currently at number 15 of the 25 Best Places to Live. We always joked about how nothing exciting happens there. It was slow and quant – but it was pleasant. I wouldn’t trade my experience though because I had the opportunity to grow up in a relatively diverse community where people accepted one another. I can’t recall ever witnessing division or strife between individuals over their ethnicity or backgrounds. We didn’t care about color; at least I didn’t and neither did the people I associated with. But it hadn’t always been that way for me.
In elementary school, I went to a predominately white school where I had majority white friends. While I saw no problem with this, others did, and when I visited with cousins or neighborhood kids they let me know. I was teased for “talking white," which simply meant that my "properness" bothered them. And that bothered me. A confused seven-year-old, I would cry to my mom, telling her how kids made fun of me for choosing a certain group of friends. I didn’t understand why. But it didn’t make me any less black.
In sixth grade, my family moved to Houston to be closer to relatives, and I once again had a culture shock. I now was attending a predominantly black school, and it was a huge challenge for me. I wasn’t sure how well I would adapt and make friends, and I was certain people would make fun of me once I opened my mouth. For one thing, I was intimidated at how much more experienced they were at swearing than I was. But I managed, and I met some awesome people there – people who I am still friends with today.
I was confused about how I was going to fit in, and people took notice. It was a struggle for me because it seemed like I was never enough in one group and maybe a bit too much in another.
By the end of eighth grade we had settled back in Round Rock, just in time to start high school. High school was pretty smooth and free of major challenges, but once I went onto college in East Texas I once again faced cultural differences. You had your city kids from different sides of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), and then you had your back road rural kids. I was neither. I was confused about how I was going to fit in, and people took notice. It was a struggle for me because it seemed like I was never enough in one group and maybe a bit too much in another. Even though it was an awkward time, it taught me to be comfortable within myself because no one can live my life for me.
My parents teased me as a child by saying that I could make friends with anyone because of how much I talk and ask questions. They were right. As an adult in corporate America, I can now appreciate my upbringing because it has allowed me to be able to understand and communicate with people from so many walks of life.
As a black woman, I have been provided access to opportunities throughout my life that slaves were not given. After all that black Americans have been through, I refuse to settle for a life where I can't connect with people from vastly different backgrounds than me. And I will not hide my truth from the rest of the world. Juneteenth is a celebration because the secret was out: slaves in Texas were free! That set the tone for how black Americans are given access to resources and a life of living without boundaries or restrictions.
I am now myself a mother of a one-year-old girl named Kennedy Grace – named after JFK because he was an active leader in the civil rights movement. I will continue to celebrate Juneteenth and share with my daughter why we celebrate it. I want her to know that no matter what anyone says about her, living in her truth is priceless. Much like our freedom.
Jared K. grew up in all-white environment. He shares how listening to blues records by black musicians literally changed his worldview. And why that's a good thing.
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