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Catrena Bowman-Thomas: It’s Juneteenth; celebrate end of slavery and pursue meaningful ‘what’s next’

Today is Juneteenth!

A holiday recognized by the state of Kentucky and many other states, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

Note that this was two and a half years after  President Lincoln’s  Emancipation Proclamation  – which had become official January 1, 1863.

This holiday is supposed to be a celebration of freedom for the slaves. Yet here we are 155 years later still fighting for freedom. I wonder how the slaves felt in the moment when they heard the proclamation that said they were no longer considered property but are now free. I’m sure they were yelling, crying and hugging one another.

Finally, the day we have prayed for, fought and died for.

Finally, freedom.

But in the next breath, I can imagine they were thinking what’s next? We are free, but we have absolutely nothing. They didn’t have any money; any property and the vast majority of slaves could not even read. How would they forge a road ahead? It would seem overwhelming and nearly impossible. Yet history shows us that they did indeed make it. They were trailblazers, no path was created for them, they made their own path. It is incredible what has been accomplished in 155 years.

Today, I believe we are standing at the same precipice, asking the same question. What’s next? Where do we go from here?

Over the last several weeks of protest, demonstrations and unrest the national attention is finally acknowledging that racism is real, structural racism is insidious and needs to be addressed.

But now that we have the national attention my question is what’s next? Are we just going to have a conversation and cry together and acknowledge how wrong this is and go back to our normal lives or are we going to demand real change?

I was in a meeting with many female leaders and one leader stated, enough talking, we need to put our money behind the talk for real action and real change to take place.

Catrena Bowman-Thomas

My hope for what happens next is what my mother would call,” putting your money where your mouth is.” For those who have been deeply impacted by the current events in our country should take a hard look at their spheres of influence and open doors for people of color. There are many rooms that we do not have access to were decisions of wealth are made. For those of you in the seats of power in those rooms, my challenge to you is to blow up the current systems and create new systems that include all.

It’s time to blaze a new trail, this time we need to blaze the trail together. Then we can celebrate Juneteenth as a day of freedom for all.

Catrena Bowman-Thomas is executive director of the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.

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