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Celebrating Juneteenth

The Stuff of Astounding: A Poem for Juneteenth
By PATRICIA SMITH

Unless you spring from a history that is smug and reckless, unless

you’ve vowed yourself blind to a ceaseless light, you see us. We

are a shea-shined toddler writhing through Sunday sermon, we are

the grizzled elder gingerly unfolding his last body. And we are intent

and insistent upon the human in ourselves. We are the doctor on

another day at the edge of reason, coaxing a wrong hope, ripping

open a gasping body to find air. We are five men dripping from the

burly branches of young trees, which is to say that we dare a world

that is both predictable and impossible. What else can we learn from

suicides of the cuffed, the soft targets black backs be? Stuck in its

rhythmic unreel, time keeps including us, even as our aged root

is doggedly plucked and trampled, cursed by ham-fisted spitters in

the throes of a particular fever. See how we push on as enigma, the

free out loud, the audaciously unleashed, how slyly we scan the sky

all that wet voltage and scatters of furious star—to realize that we

are the recipients of an ancient grace. No, we didn’t begin to live

when, on the 19th June day of that awkward, ordinary spring—with

no joy, in a monotone still flecked with deceit—Seems you and these

others are free. That moment did not begin our breath. Our truths

the ones we’d been birthed with—had already met reckoning in the

fields as we muttered tangled nouns of home. We reveled in black

from there to now, our rampant hue and nap, the unbridled breath

that resides in the rafters, from then to here, everything we are is

the stuff of astounding. We are a mother who hums snippets of gospel

into the silk curls of her newborn, we are the harried sister on the

elevator to the weekly paycheck mama dreamed for her. We are black

in every way there is—perm and kink, upstart and elder, wide voice,

fervent whisper. We heft our clumsy homemade placards, we will

curl small in the gloom weeping to old blues ballads. We swear not

to be anybody else’s idea of free, lining up precisely, waiting to be

freed again and again. We are breach and bellow, resisting a silent

consent as we claim our much of America, its burden and snarl, the

stink and hallelujah of it, its sicknesses and safe words, all its black

and otherwise. Only those feigning blindness fail to see the body

of work we are, and the work of body we have done. Everything is

what it is because of us. It is misunderstanding to believe that free

fell upon us like a blessing, that it was granted by a signature and

an abruptly opened door. Listen to the thousand ways to say black

out loud. Hear a whole people celebrate their free and fragile lives,

then find your own place inside that song. Make the singing matter.

 

Today we celebrate Juneteenth on campus and across our country, remembering and honoring this day as a day of liberation and hope. Today's special New York Times edition begins with a reflection by Veronica Chambers in which she struggles with the dissonance of celebrating liberation in a place and time when the legacy or "afterlife" of slavery still bears its heavy mark. Like those in Texas who heard the news more than two years after the proclamation itself, we too, now generations later, still await the arrival of the full emancipation. Reflecting on this reality, Chambers writes,"As someone who has celebrated Juneteenth for a long time, I think we need it now — not in lieu of the freedom, justice and equality we are still fighting for — but in addition, because we have been fighting for so very long.The elemental sermon embedded into the history and lore of Juneteenth has always been one of hope. The gifts of the holiday are the moments of connection, renewal and joy for a people who have had to endure so much, for so long.To me, Juneteenth matters because it says: Keep going, the future you want is coming."

Juneteenth does matter. It sets aside a day to lean into the hope and joy of liberation, even as we continue to wrestle with and against the insidious froces of anti-black racism in America. We need these moments of joy and celebration to focus our collective imaginations and build reslience for the journey that lies yet ahead. I encourage you to treat today as a sabbath, as a holy day, a holiday, a day set aside for celebration, reflection, and action. Take time to read about Juneteenth, to revel in the writings and poetry that celebrate the day, and to join in our community festivties. Below are a few links to reflections and gatherings for today. We hope you will join in one.  

Resources on Juneteenth at Stanford

Intervarsity Black Campus Ministries: Juneenth Celebration

How We Juneteenth - The New York Times

What is Juneteenth?- The New York Times

Juneteenth Middle Church Celebration

Dismantling anti-black racism will take all of us joining together to confront and transform generations of systemic injustice. We must educate ourselves, build resilience for the long haul, and act, even when we feel afraid or ashamed or not enough. I believe we can do it, but only together.

Dean T.L. Steinwert
Dean for Religious Life

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