Black History Juneteenth Mobolaji Olambiwonnu

Juneteenth: Embracing the Power of Awareness and Repair

Juneteenth Mural 22nd St – Strand Galveston, TX. 2C2K Photography, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Mobolaji Olambiwonnu / Original to ScheerPost

When President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, I initially saw it as a symbolic gesture, unable to replace the concrete legislation needed to address the challenges faced by the Black community in America. However, as time passed and I had conversations with my white friends who had no idea about its historical origins, I started realizing the true importance of Juneteenth. It is not just another holiday, but a valuable lesson for America—a chance to confront its past and make amends for ongoing injustices.

Juneteenth is a day that marks the liberation of enslaved African Americans in Texas. Can you believe it took more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation for them to learn they were finally free? This delay speaks volumes about the deep-seated oppression that persisted even after slavery was abolished on paper. This also exemplifies the deep-seated oppression that continues at present where Black people are seen as a threat simply for existing in a white or non-Black space.

The fact that many people, including well-meaning white Americans, are unaware of Juneteenth’s significance highlights the need for education and reflection. This holiday forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about America’s treatment of Black people. It shows us that, despite viewing itself as exceptional, America has fallen short of its own ideals. Juneteenth offers an opportunity for the nation to acknowledge its past transgressions and develop a deeper understanding of the pain and struggles endured by the Black community.

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In today’s climate, where some histories are ignored while others are selectively maintained, Juneteenth takes on even greater significance. It serves as a powerful reminder that we must face the uncomfortable aspects of our past to heal and move forward. By recognizing Juneteenth, we can foster empathy and understanding, laying the groundwork for a more inclusive society.

But it doesn’t stop at acknowledgment alone. Juneteenth represents a turning point—a call to action. It demands that we address the ongoing systemic disparities and inequalities faced by Black people in America. This holiday pushes us to confront the uncomfortable truth and work towards reparations and a genuine apology for the harms inflicted upon the Black community. While legislative measures are essential, Juneteenth galvanizes us to take a more comprehensive approach to repairing the damages of systemic racism.

As someone who has been raised in both Africa and America, I have witnessed Africans ignore the plight of African Americans due to the misinformation they received about them via the American media. This holiday has broader global ramifications and educational impact that I previously ignored. Now the rest of the world has an opportunity to learn the often hidden history of African American people. The next step would be a true acknowledgment of the contributions and reparations, but we are getting closer than I thought.

Ultimately, Juneteenth serves as a reminder to our Black brothers and sisters in America that their pain is seen and acknowledged. That is a huge step towards healing and says that as a nation, any of our citizens’ struggles are all of our struggles. It offers us yet another opportunity to unite around a common struggle to defeat racism and sends a message of solidarity.

In conclusion, Juneteenth goes beyond being just a holiday. It symbolizes America’s potential for growth, accountability, and unity. By embracing this historical milestone, we can create a society that values the acknowledgment of past injustices and actively seeks to rectify them. Juneteenth urges us to confront the uncomfortable realities of systemic racism and commit to change. It offers us a future where every individual is treated with dignity and equality. Let us remember the pain and suffering endured by the Black community, ensuring that history is not forgotten or repeated. Juneteenth is an invitation for America to fulfill its promise and live up to its ideals. It is an opportunity for me to share the dignity and importance of struggle with my young son who knows nothing about this history. It gives me an opportunity to see struggle as something worthy versus something to look down on. Perhaps other Americans will begin to see this history the same way and join the struggle for full freedom and equality for all. Happy Juneteenth, everyone! 

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Mobolaji Olambiwonnu

Mobolaji Olambiwonnu is a filmmaker, speaker, and educator whose superpower is using cinema as a tool to share diverse cultural and political experiences, critique the superficial conditions that divide us, and accentuate the merits of shedding our prejudices. 

His Academy qualifying documentary, Ferguson Rises, executive produced by Academy and Emmy Award winner TJ Martin, acclaimed producer Gigi Pritzker, Grammy Award winners RZA and Aloe Blacc, and acclaimed actor David Oyelowo, is honored with the coveted Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award (2021) and the Pan African Film Festival Audience Award (2022) among others, and is the only documentary to represent PBS/Independent Lens’ 2021 fall slate at the Television Critics Association (TCA). Variety, Salon, Screen Daily and Ebony have featured articles on the film, to name a few.

A Pasadena native, son of a Nigerian Muslim father and Jamaican Christian mother, Mobolaji spent his early childhood in his father’s native Nigeria and at the age of 9, he returned to Southern California.

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