“We grow up in a world where we’ve been institutionalized to not celebrate our Blackness.” – Cole, YouthCare staff
On Juneteenth, YouthCare staff held a beautiful virtual and in-person celebration for staff and young people.
Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”—a song often broadcasted during Black Lives Matter protests across the country—played in the background as staff logged in at the start of the celebration. The song captures the complexities of being Black today: the pain, resilience, and finally, hope. Hope for a movement of people fighting against state-sanctioned violence and racism. We gonna be alright.
It set the tone for the rest of the celebration. It was moving, sobering, uplifting, and powerful to be in community with our Black colleagues and celebrate Black freedom and excellence.
We’re excited to share some of our celebration with you. Read on for a compilation of videos, reflections, poems, art, songs, and stories shared by staff in honor of Juneteenth.
Saying Their Names
We started off with a silent honoring of the names and faces of young Black lives lost at the hands of police. Nicholas Heyward. Tamir Rice. Tyre King. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Trayvon Martin. Cameron Tillman. Jordan Edwards. Laquan McDonald. Kiwane Carrington. DeAunt Farrow. And so many other lives brutally taken.
Reflections on Independence Day as a Black American
“I didn’t really celebrate Juneteenth growing up… I celebrated Independence Day on July 4 just like everyone else. Maybe because I’ve never really felt like an ‘American’, even though I was born here, I have mixed emotions. This new movement makes me want to celebrate Juneteenth.” – Linzy, UDYC Case Manager
“In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” – Toni Morrison, American novelist
The Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing
Staff member, Jason, put on this beautiful version of the Black National Anthem…
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I am black and I am proud to be black. I have not been in the mood to sing lately and I keep getting messages to sing so I figure if I’m Going to sing it will be this . “Let us March On Til Victory Is Won “...It’s shames me that this line is still relevant today... People if the non-black community and also people of the mixed black community (like myself ) , I encourage you to have conversations about what’s going on now, And if people are uncomfortable ...Let them feel it let them sit in it. That discomfort comes from pride ... Encourage people to break down that pride so the stop seeing the world from a selfish Perspective and be able to see it from another. It starts with accountability Of your actions .. then acknowledgment of the others that may be affected by your actions whether it be intentional or not. Accountability and acknowledgment…I encourage you to start your day off like that and pass it on to the next. This world can’t be like this anymore. #blacklivesmatter #lifteveryvoice #Acknowledgment #accountability
And we learned about the song’s history together.
A note on history…
Staff member, Salina, shared with us the history behind Juneteenth, or Freedom Day. June 19, 1865, marked the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure the freedom of those who were enslaved. But it came a full two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1963. Salina encouraged us to celebrate Juneteenth to remember Black history, celebrate freedom, honor Black excellence, and renew the fight for Black rights today.
Staff member, Jeremy, shared his reflections on the systemic white-washing of history in America and in the world. He reflected on the glamorization of colonization, how Black and Brown leaders were erased or diminished in history books, and how ancient statues were falsely romanticized using shades of white from neoclassicism influence.
Adrian Brandon’s “Stolen” Series
Staff member, Cole, shared a moving project by his friend and NY-based artist, Adrian Brandon. The Stolen series “is dedicated to the many black people that were robbed of their lives at the hands of the police. In addition to using markers and pencil, I use time as a medium to define how long each portrait is colored in. 1 year of life = 1 minute of color.” Learn more about the “Stolen Series” on Adrian’s website.
A poem by staff member St.Ennah: “Blackness in the eye of the storm”
I hate you, i didn’t ask for this
Abuse me, use me, but don’t appreciate me to my standards.
It’s always your standards.
By your standards because mine you don’t care about.
To your standards the less you have to do.
To my standards I’m in control.
To my standards you work, you learn, you grow
I want my standards to be centered
I didn’t ask for this, love me when you need me hate me when you’re winning
I didn’t ask for this, Create my problems and force me to fix them
You ask me what the solution is when you’re the problem.
I hate you, but I love me
I always will
I love me
All of me
My mind and body
I love me
Even though I hate you
The hate you give me
is what I give back
but I love me
I am me. I am black
I love me. I love black
On soul food & storytelling…
Staff member, Degale, talked about how food is often at the intersection of our history and culture. She shared a sweet story from her childhood: her grandma would sing a song as she lovingly cooked and prepared them for her family. Oxtails are a mainstay in Black culture and a staple soul food (you can learn more about the important history of soul food here.) Degale joyfully sang this song and invited staff over if they wanted to try her delicious oxtails, a recipe passed on to her from her grandma.
You can try this Jerk-seasoned recipe here.
Revisiting Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
A message about the movement’s future leaders by Dr. Cornel West…
Staff member, Jason, shared an inspiring video of Dr. Cornel West reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement and recent uprising following the murder of George Floyd.
“None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.” – Professor Cornel West
On progress and collective growth…
Staff member, Modou, shared powerful perspectives as someone identifies as a Black man, an immigrant, someone who is of Muslim faith, and who was born on the shores where the first Africans were stolen and enslaved. He shared that when he first started at YouthCare years ago, staff were mostly White and very few BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). He reflected on the work he and others have done to hire more BIPOC staff, particularly as two out of three young people experiencing homelessness are youth of color. Modou expressed that today, he feels more hopeful in YouthCare’s work to dismantle the systems of oppression that affect youth.
Linzy closed out our celebration by sharing a quote on keeping up momentum in support of antiracism work and the Black Lives Matter movement by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.” – MLK, Jr.
We’re grateful to everyone who participated in Juneteenth this year. Thank you to our staff for being vulnerable, sharing, and celebrating Black excellence with us.
In continuous community and conversation,