I know that an annual “Faith and Freedom Coalition” conference, a national holiday, and Fathers’ Day will not always line up on the same week. Yet, no one should lose the irony of the first-ever federal Juneteenth holiday, a conference that promotes the value of the nuclear family, and our traditional celebration of the gift of fatherhood all falling on the same weekend during these turbulent times.
It’s more than just a coincidence; it’s a recipe for success for many of the most underserved, overlooked, and – yes, even the most discriminated – Americans to utilize, especially if we are to heal, uplift, and lead more Americans into the fold of the American Dream moving forward.
The capping of the first federal Juneteenth Weekend with a subtle reminder is important, even if it is easy to overlook. With the jubilee that immediately followed the 1865 announcement of the end of slavery came the ability for Black families (note, these were not African-Americans, as they had no rights at this point) to finally stick together and stay together. Juneteenth’s glory is also a stabbing of a scar, a feast that gently touches upon the failure of America to be honorable and just to Black men over the course of our history – and how that indescribable wrong had a chance to be corrected after 1865.
Sadly, even after 1865, Black fatherhood remained an aspiration, not a fixture within the fabric of our nation. During slavery, Black men were subjected to roles that did not exceed much more than breeding bucks, beasts of burden in the fields, or docile servants. For every Nat Turner or Frederick Douglass in the annals of our history, there are millions that were beaten, maimed, and killed over the 300+ year history of chattel slavery on this continent. Immediately after slavery, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the initiation of Jim Crow laws – ridden on the back of the “Compromise of 1877” — created environments where Black men were systemically persecuted through the economic, election system, and social mores of the day, complete with horrific lynchings and other degrading realities to their families. The Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century saw the destruction of Black families and the assassination of multiple Black leaders – all Black fathers. Even with the presence of Black fathers in the households of America at honorable clips over the years, the persistence of America’s Original Sin pinned these men to the periphery of society, limiting their effectiveness to grow their progeny towards deepened prosperity. Policies intended to level the playing field for Black fathers to allow them to learn, grow, and provide within a changing America were met with wicked retribution and blowback. Today’s school-to-prison pipeline has been notorious for targeting young Black men – many of whom both grew up without a father and themselves are fathers.
And yet, the primary highlight that this weekend – this inaugural Juneteenth Weekend that shares the platform with the reminder of faith and the need for persistent fatherhood – is that even in the shadows of great celebration and challenging histories come the ever-present opportunity to be greater and do more through faith in God and foundation in family. For those that do not see the coming together of a new federal holiday and two old ingredients for civic peace and patriotic love, an opportunity to bend the arc of our contemporary times away from confusion, anger, mistrust, division, and ineffectiveness is lost by them.
Juneteenth signifies the end of a scourge that blemished the heavens and scorched the western world. It represents the promise of an unimaginable beginning. For Black people in 1865, the ability to be self-determinative as many in America were at that time became a possibility, even for a moment. For us today, we stand within a moment of “Black Lives Matter” (i.e., the truest meaning, not the political organization) and all that it entails, including the reality that Black fathers exist, Black fathers matter, and that Black fathers’ stories are as American – with their ups and downs – as the colors of our flag are. This is a moment where Black men can be better valued within our society – as leaders within families and valued citizens within our culture. This is a moment where a holiday can show us the wrongs of our ways in the past as we celebrate the historic examples that point us in the right direction for a better future. Juneteenth – with the foundations of faith, freedom, and fatherhood – can remind us that through any inability, horrific set of transgressions, and stifling civic and economic poverty, we can and shall still overcome.
This Juneteenth might come across as a solely Afro-centric holiday in much the same way that one could initially see that Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, only belong to those whose direct ancestors benefited from the events that led to those federal holidays. And yet, through time and expanded understanding, the opportunity to celebrate was extended to all Americans, creating a platform of gratitude, of heightened expectations, and – dare I say it – togetherness under a common bond. Those holidays remind us of our greatness and command us to be greater in our future journeys. They make us laugh and make us reflect. This is a new opportunity to do the same now – leveraging the nudges from other events this weekend as guides to embrace the challenge to become better Americans within our changing times.