Juneteenth invites Americans to reflect upon what it means to be free | Opinion

·3 min read

This is part of an opinion series examining Juneteenth. The USA TODAY Network Tennessee invited Black leaders and influencers to share their thoughts on lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned.

Juneteenth is a very special day. It recognizes independence from slavery and a celebration of freedom. It’s a time to remember the past, celebrate the present and plan for future generations.

As much as Juneteenth is about the history of, and more recently, the culture of African Americans, it’s also about diversity and the strength of that diversity.

Recently, the world has seen evidence of the disparate treatment of African Americans in America. For a moment a spotlight was on the residual effect slavery had on the inequities and the often-unfair treatment of African Americans, the white privilege that continues to exist and the need for change. In response, we also witnessed the healing spirit of our nation to bring about change.

Amy Bryant
Amy Bryant

It is important to point out that even though Juneteenth ended slavery as an institution, the mindset and practices of treating African Americans as an inferior race continued.

Since the oppression of African Americans under the law ended, the ability and impact of contributions made by them has also been unshackled. It’s a day to reflect on what it means to be free.

Tying it to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation was the first step in America truly being free and living up to its ideals that all men and women were created equal.

Truly, we could never really be a free land unless we are all made to be free and recognized as whole and equal.

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There is still work to be done in the cause of equality and fairness

Oftentimes, we think of these moments as “ours” or “theirs,” but that moment in history, June 19, 1865, and its subsequent recognition as a holiday should be celebrated by all.

It warmed my heart when the federal government made Juneteenth a national holiday. That intentional action showed that the ending of slavery became just as important as America’s independence.

I was overjoyed to hear Nashville's mayor followed suit and declared Juneteenth a local holiday. I was heartbroken when the legislative session ended without Juneteenth becoming a state holiday.

This causes me to feel Tennessee does not heed the significance of the momentous occasion.

As we look back, take introspection and narrow our gaze toward the future because there is work to be done for the cause of equality and fairness in our society. There are forms of oppression and disenfranchisement that still exist.

Let’s celebrate Juneteenth by working to herald and defend it at every opportunity. Indeed, freedom is an idea that some people do not share, and they and their idea of American freedom must always be part of the powerless minority. Let’s celebrate Juneteenth and work for it because we know how precious and fragile freedom is.

Amy Bryant, born on Juneteenth, is the director for the Metro Nashville Office of Conservatorship Management, adjunct professor for Belmont Law, a wife and mother of four.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Juneteenth invites Americans to reflect upon what it means to be free