This guest post on Juneteenth is by Bexley resident and BMPA parent/Executive Board Member, Jonathan Baker. Bexley hosted their inaugural Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 19, 2021 — additional resources and details can be found on the City of Bexley website.

I logged on to my weekly Friday morning Zoom meeting and was told by a White co-worker,

“No School today because of Juneteenth. Did you not see the news & resources on how we could spend the day?”

I just got up, checked my calendar, and proceeded with my weekly ritual like I had done every Friday during the pandemic. Hmm… I wonder if the enslaved were just going about their daily regimens when they first received news of their emancipation??

This was officially my first Juneteenth. I had no formal experience with how to proceed. But, I used the MLK Holiday as an exemplar – with an added twist.

“Resources on how we could spend the day

Perhaps by virtue of where we were socio-culturally as a nation, the MLK Holiday was considered by many to be a holiday to be celebrated primarily by African-Americans. My Chicago suburb was 90+% African-American at the time the holiday became nationally recognized in 1983. The adults saw the King Holiday as an opportunity for enlightenment. Educators assigned book reports and ministers held oratorical contests the days before, or immediately after, those 3rd Mondays in January. It was unfathomable for us to return from those long weekends talking about skiing, sleeping in, or watching cartoons all day.

There was more of the same for me in high school. In college, as a fellow fraternity brother of Dr. King, this notion of enlightenment moved from personal to communal.  My fellow Alpha Phi Alpha brothers and I took it upon ourselves to educate the Northwestern University community about Dr. King’s accomplishments. The Alpha Mu chapter continues this tradition to this very day.

This principle of enlightenment for self and others manifested itself that weekend as my family and I attended Capital University’s Day of Learning, visited artwork at the King Arts Complex, and participated in local service projects.

So, I believe that Juneteenth should be a “Day On, Not a Day Off.” It should include enlightenment on the uncomfortable truths of slavery–past and present. There should be educational opportunities on systemic racism, prejudice, critical race theory, and police brutality. We should also look at the types of “slavery” that exist in our local areas of influence. Only then can we move towards freeing the “enslaved” and towards ultimate FREEDOM.

Juneteenth, for me, should not be an early kickstart to hit the beach for Father’s Day Weekend. It can be so much more than that. I only need to look at how I’ve spent the MLK holiday over these last 4+ decades. I have to, as my co-worker mentioned, look at the “resources on how to spend the day.”

“My White Co-Worker”

The power in Juneteenth for me is not just in the actions my co-worker recommended. But, it is her race and allyship. She did not awkwardly deflect the responsibility to me since I’m an African-American. And, in no way, did she discredit the holiday. Instead, it became clear that she was going to join in with this work. In fact, she has even read some of the Juneteenth information on Bexley’s website.

This is where Juneteenth can be markedly different for ALL of us – from the very beginning. Today, we can operate knowing that Juneteenth is to be supported by ALL. Yes, it is dear to African-Americans. But, like my White co-worker, everyone can CHOOSE TO celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans and join in the continued fight for FREEDOM.

Through the years almost every MLK Event has presented attendees with the question, “How are you keeping The Dream alive today?” This is my first Juneteenth. But, I wonder if its question would be, “How are you FREEING the ENSLAVED today?” As I learned Friday morning, ALL of us should be ready to answer this question.

– Jonathan Baker, Ph.D., 1986 Co-Valedictorian (Irving Elementary, Maywood, Illinois)