By Lee Gash-Maxey, Mile High United Way Board Member & Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce
As a child we didn’t celebrate Juneteenth. Growing up in Denver, I don’t remember even hearing about Juneteenth (June Nineteenth) until I went to college. And it was part of my own, independent Black studies at Colorado State University, that I learned enslaved Africans, living in Texas, didn’t even hear about the Emancipation Proclamation until 1865 – a full two and a half years after it was signed by President Lincoln.
So, after the war ended in the spring of 1865, with the arrival of Union troops in Galveston that June, 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were notified they were now free. Certainly, something to celebrate!
Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight – in some cases, enslavers withheld the information until after harvest season – celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.
Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday. On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.
While Juneteenth celebrates the official end of slavery, today we still have an enormous amount of work to do to ensure the complete participation of Black people in America. In 2022,
- The economic and wealth gap for Black women is staggering, with Black women holding 90% less wealth than white men.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has brought social and racial injustice and inequity to the forefront of public health.
- Black children continue to face educational challenges that keep our community playing from behind, and because of the pandemic our children continue to fall behind in math, reading, and access to technology.
We can’t ignore the facts; we still have a lot of work to do.
Recent events like the mass shooting in Buffalo remind us that while we have lots of achievements to celebrate – our first Black President, the first Black female Vice President, the first Black female Supreme Court Justice, the first Black executive to run a major television news network, the first Black woman CEO in the NBA, and Princeton’s first Black valedictorian – the fight for equality in America is far from over. Our work continues.
I believe we must start by acknowledging our painful past, accepting the truth of our history. Since 1619 enslaved Africans have been the backbone of the American workforce. The economic strength of this country was built on our backs. Too often the fruits of our work have strengthened mainstream societies and crippled the Black community.
We must respectfully talk to each other about what that means, what that feels like on both sides. As we celebrate Juneteenth, the country’s newest holiday, let’s stop denying our painful past and uncomfortable present, let’s give each other the freedom to express our hurt and our doubt, and honor the intent of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Let’s celebrate Juneteenth with a commitment to ourselves and each other to participate in conversations and activities that acknowledge the contributions of enslaved Africans throughout American history.
Learn more about Mile High United Way’s commitment to social justice and racial equity.
About Lee Gash-Maxey
A Denver native with more than 30 years of corporate, business and non-profit organization experience, Gash-Maxey is an award-winning television, cable and film producer. She currently serves on the Mile High United Way Board of Trustees, in addition to holding other leadership positions, including the Denver County Cultural Council.
Currently serving as the Executive Director of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, Gash-Maxey is committed to serving the needs of African American owned businesses. As Executive Director, she works constantly to connect African American entrepreneurs to the resources that will help their businesses grow and our community thrive.