Juneteenth, the annual cultural celebration honoring the day in 1865 when Black people in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom and emancipation from slavery, is rarely if ever mentioned in American history books.
Unlike the 4th of July, prior to this year, June 19 wasn’t observed as a paid holiday by many local governments or companies. 2020 has shown itself to be a turning point in mainstream recognition of Juneteenth, with major companies such as Quicken Loans, Twitter, Nike, Target, and others observing the holiday. Now, many want to see June 19 set into law as a federal holiday as well.
Listen: Kyra Kyles on the significance of Juneteenth and going beyond the moment to spark a revolution.
As socio-political tensions flare, and a new civil rights movement is taking to the streets for justice and an end to systemic racism, recognition for Juneteenth has significantly amplified and propelled ‘Black Independence Day’ into public consciousness nationwide.
“If you read about the history but have no desire to change anything, that doesn’t help.” — Kyra Kyles, YR Media
Illuminating the holiday as a celebration of Black life means it’s also a time to reflect on the issues of freedom and liberty for all – the very same issues at the forefront of today’s protests.
“I think what’s interesting about it, is that you grow up hearing about the 4th of July – celebrating that as independence – and [Juneteenth] is almost like a shadow holiday, so-to-speak,” says Kyra Kyles, CEO of YR Media. “Juneteenth is about equality and freedom. [America] talks about freedom, but we don’t want to talk about it for all groups. We only want to talk about it for the majority and in a very toothless way. When we’re forced to really look at who has had freedom, consistently, who hasn’t had freedom, that’s when you have tough conversations.”
Kyles hopes that the widespread observation of Juneteenth will be viewed as more than just a day off from work, but as a time to dig deeper into Black history and gain an understanding about what systems continue to oppress Black Americans and what actions can take place to dismantle them.
“It isn’t about knowing things, it’s about acting on them. If you read about the history but have no desire to change anything, that doesn’t help,” she says. “I’m trying to position myself to think about what’s going to change, where will we see actual policy, and what will we see in the next election because I think that’s where we’ll really understand whether this is just a moment in time or whether this is a real revolution.”