Building a Way Forward By Knowing Our Past

Explore three tools that can help us gain appreciation for the past and develop awareness for the future.

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I’ve thought about the history lessons that I’ve been taught throughout high school and eventually college. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been taught by many different teachers but as I age, I have come to find out that the most important lessons I have learnt about history…my history, has been out of the classroom. 

I was 23 years old when I first heard about Juneteenth. The longest-running African American holiday, Juneteenth (short for June 19th) celebrates the end of slavery within the United States in 1865. While most people might be familiar with the emancipation declaration by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, not everyone in Confederate territory was free until June 19th, 1865. 

While it’s painful to have gone through an educational system that has managed to skip over such an integral part of history, I’ve discovered that I have embarked on an exciting journey of seeing just how deep my roots go. As I slowly uncover parts of my history as an adult, hearing the story of those who came before me has given me a newfound sense of strength and resilience. I have learned that I am made of the hopes and dreams of my ancestors and as I celebrate Juneteenth, I feel respect for them and I’ve developed a resolve to share this information and feeling with as many people as I can.

If there’s anything that we’ve learned from this past year, it is that we are still in the midst of history being made.

As I look back at the past, it’s with a sense of appreciation and pain for everything that has enabled me to be where I am today. If there’s anything that we’ve learned from this past year, it is that we are still in the midst of history being made. The decisions we make about how we treat other people and their differences will live on, and it’s up to us to learn what we can from the past and make changes for our future. 

3 Tools to Reflect on Juneteenth Beyond the Month of June

1) Keep learning 

The learning opportunities in life are infinite. There is so much we can learn about ourselves and the world around us. If we take a moment to simply listen, we can begin to discover new things every day. You can learn about organizations doing transformative work in your community, or listen to a grandparent share life stories. Michelle Maldonado offers a “foundational awareness practice designed to help bring about three key insights: clarity of intention; understanding of our power, presence, and impact; and opportunities for wise action-taking,” she says. She reminds us that taking the time to listen and learn can empower us to make the changes that are so desperately needed in our world. 

2) Pay attention to how you’re feeling

Not everything you learn will be pretty. Whether it’s a global event or rough family history, you might discover things that are difficult to come to terms with. As Rhonda Magee writes, this is when we can touch in with our desire “for well-being that begins right here, right now, in your own body and being and spirit, for justice that begins here.” Check in with yourself and know when you need to take a moment to engage in self-care. Learning is a lifelong journey and it’s essential to know how to support yourself along the way. 

3) Celebrate 

“Mindfulness helps us remember the truth of our belonging by allowing us to experience the ease and joy of truly belonging at any moment,” writes Sebene Selassie. Even though knowledge can come with pain, it can also help you discover moments of joy. Even with its difficult history, Juneteenth is still a holiday that continues to be celebrated. I think of cookouts, family gatherings and the innate ability of a community to heal and push back against insurmountable odds. And that, to me, deserves to be celebrated.

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  • Barry Boyce
  • May 27, 2020
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