The celebration of Juneteenth has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Although new to some, Juneteenth is not a new holiday. It has always been a time for celebration, community and food.
Oh, the joy of the day! It is a day for celebration in the Black community and a time to see smiling families, laughing children, hear impassioned speeches, listen to good music and enjoy amazing food.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General’s Orders No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, to ensure that all enslaved people would be freed. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being signed two and a half years earlier, Black people were still being held as slaves in Texas.
Following the Civil War, the Union Army was sent to ensure that all people, in every state, would be free. Black communities have continued to celebrate Juneteenth. Texas would become the first state to name Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1979 and on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth National Independence Day was made a federal holiday.
Why should everyone celebrate Juneteenth? We all celebrate July 4 as America’s Declaration of Independence from an external tyranny. Juneteenth is victory over an internal tyranny that nearly destroyed our country.
The Civil War remains the deadliest conflict in U.S. history, leaving 600,000-750,000 dead soldiers. Juneteenth reminds us that our greatest threat is not from the outside.
Our greatest threat is when we fail to uphold the truth that all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, are created equal. Juneteenth reminds us that we can dismantle systemic and institutional racism, no matter how deeply entrenched. Juneteenth is the aspiration of our more perfect union and we work until everyone can achieve the American promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Future planning and celebrations should continue with those who have been doing the work before there was national light on the day. Community organizations like the NAACP Rio Rancho branch have held annual Juneteenth celebrations in this city for many years. These celebrations have and should continue to highlight community organizations and churches who have served needs in the Rio Rancho community, feature Black-owned businesses as central to economic empowerment and local economic growth and celebrate the art, music and food that has become part of the fabric of America.
Future Juneteenth Days in Rio Rancho should continue to do what Juneteenth has always done: celebrate Black culture, uplift the community and celebrate joy as the hallmark of a free people.
(Karissa Culbreath is in her first term as a Rio Rancho city councilor.)