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Saturday, June 18, 2022

Juneteenth! I was in the dark!

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never written a column about Juneteenth. I’m ashamed to admit that, until 40 years ago, I had never even heard the word “Juneteenth.” I had no idea what it was, or what it meant. 

I was attending a meeting in Grand Rapids on June 19, sometime in the late 1980s, with my good friend Rev. Cy Young, Black preacher and MLK devotee. After the meeting, he invited me to join him at a nearby park, where African Americans were observing Juneteenth. 

I had to ask what the heck he was talking about.

You probably already know this. But, here's a simple explanation from CNN...and this is what Cy Young had to explain to me:  Juneteenth -- also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day -- commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. A blend of the words June and nineteenth, it marks June 19, 1865: the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming that the enslaved African Americans there were free. 

There weren’t many people in the park on that day to celebrate Juneteenth, but in all fairness, it was very early in the day. I still remember the beautiful exhibits depicting Black history, and the delicious food tents featuring some outstanding soul food. Especially the food! 

Sadly, memories of Juneteenth faded from my memory again. 

Many years later, the Black Lives Matter movement brought Juneteenth to the forefront again, and I was so proud that last year our President signed a proclamation that transformed Juneteenth from an obscure word/observance to a national holiday! ““Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They embrace them,” President Biden said during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with mistakes we made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.” 

I realize that Juneteenth lands on Father’s Day this year, but let’s not ignore it. In a day when it feels like the pendulum is swinging in the wrong direction, when state legislatures want to limit classroom discussion of racial issues in our history, when white supremacy seems to be gaining in popularity, I’m proud to observe Juneteenth! 

And so, on Juneteenth, 2022, the founder of Humanity for Prisoners celebrates with our thousands of Black friends, Black clients, their families and loved ones, and reminds them---with our slogan---YOU MATTER!

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