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The Commercialization Of Juneteenth And Why We Must Take Control Of Our Culture And Narrative

It is imperative to keep the true meaning of Juneteenth alive.

A year into the federal recognition of Juneteenth, and like many other holidays, it is at risk of commercialization. If vast commercialization is all but inevitable, it is imperative to keep the true meaning of Juneteenth alive.

a family places their arms around each other

Juneteenth celebration starter packs have cropped up everywhere, most notably in big businesses like Walmart. Commercialization of the holiday will take place (see other holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day), but it recently seems to make the authentic celebrations become stronger.

An illustration of two people of color sitting on a blanket enjoying a picnic

The legacy of Juneteenth will carry on through education: Education centered around the historical context of Juneteenth, and why the celebration is important. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger stood on top of a hotel balcony in Galveston, Texas reading field orders, and field order three notified the illegally enslaved people that they were free.

a man writes a juneteenth sign

Some chose to leave.

a collection of black and brown hands hold each other

The question becomes, what does it mean to celebrate that freedom gained, and what freedoms now are still being sought after? These existential questions are large enough without the looming probability of the holiday becoming watered down, profited from, or just a day off to log into summer vacations.

A Juneteenth flag flying over a library

The Movement for Black Lives had a “Reparations and Racial Justice Day” rally as part of their Juneteenth events. It was a rally to generate even more momentum to move the federal legislation HR40 across the finish line through executive order. The rally brought together the key elected officials behind the legislation.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds a bill enrollment signing ceremony for the Juneteenth National Independence Day

A group of friends in New Jersey was stuck in the house during the summer of 2020, fatigued by racial oppression and a global pandemic. They convened only when linking arms during protests of police brutality. But they were looking for ways to keep their spirits high amid despair. They revisited an idea they had before the pandemic — a Juneteenth celebration. It was supposed to be a small cookout. Hours after posting a flyer on social media, the outdoor restrictions were lifted in New Jersey. The flyer went viral. They were anticipating 500 people, but instead, they got 5,000. Now in its third year, Juneteenth NJ has become a highly anticipated experience.

a father holding his daughter on his shoulders wearing Juneteenth shirts

Back in New Jersey, Juneteenth NJ is a weekend-long event. This year, the festival will also incorporate a panel called “Just Between Us: Live Panel and Networking Event” on Saturday, June 18.

A crowd celebrates juneteenth

“There is this history of the unfulfilled promise, so upon emancipation the guarantee of 40 acres and a mule, which of course was reneged upon. There was no repair; there was no remedy from this country to right the wrongs from the legacy of enslavement,” Enyia explained.

a painting in texas shows the history of juneteenth

“All too often these commemorations are seen as the progress, and it is not; the progress is in the change of the material conditions of Black people, and so we have a responsibility to continue pressing toward that progress,” Enyia expressed.

a family celebrates juneteenth

Tiffany Griffin, owner of Bright Black, a Black-owned candle company based in North Carolina, dedicates positive storytelling of Black culture through scent and decided not to have a Juneteenth sale.

a group raises their fists for Black power

“Do we want to align with this holiday now that the government says it's a holiday that Black people have been celebrating for hundreds [of] years? This year the difference was there was this proliferation of whitewashing, just to put it bluntly,” she continued.

a juneteenth activist meets Joe Biden

Instead of the Juneteenth sale, they are launching a summer collection where 25% of sales for these summer scents go to supporting Black farmers and supporting a land collective that strengthens land sovereignty for Black and Brown communities. “We have 19 Black businesses that we suggest that people look into and then want to challenge other people to post 19 Black-owned businesses," Griffin stated.

US flags colored in juneteenth/African colors

“The recognition of our tenacity, by all estimations we should be a decimated people, and we are not. We still continue to fight things that are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and we can still experience love and joy and fight and community and comraderie on Juneteenth,” Griffin declared.

black women celebrating juneteenth

Trademark attorney LaDawn Blackett Jones posted across social media, uncovering the trademark of the word Juneteenth that was on the face of Walmart’s Juneteenth ice cream. Blackett Jones has celebrated Juneteenth since she was a small child, as a native of Atlanta.

people holding up juneteenth flags

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