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Celebrating and Supporting Black Mental Health on Juneteenth

June 14th, 2023

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Juneteenth holds a place of great importance in the hearts and minds of millions of people across the United States. With its recent recognition as a federal holiday on June 17th, 2021, Juneteenth's commemoration has taken on an even more profound meaning. For 157 years prior, this day has stood as a testament to the resilience, and perseverance spirit of the African/African American community in their pursuit of freedom.

The Importance of Juneteenth

The holiday first started in Texas in 1865, after the Civil War. Enslaved African/African American people were declared free due to the designation of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although, on Freedom's Eve as some have labeled it, January 01, 1863, enslaved African/African American people in the Confederate States were declared legally free, while not everyone received this news. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation made the enslaved people free, it could not be implemented in some places still under Confederate control, resulting in more than 250,000 black people still being enslaved. The Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas announcing that they were free by executive order on June 19th, 1865.

This led to the commemoration of descendants participating in festivities with food, activities, parades, and many other traditions of education and self-improvement. It was, for a large part, an African-American celebration with not many other communities participating, nor understanding the reasons behind the holiday and its traditions. This may be attributed partly to the lack of education around the origin as schools and texts only mentioned enslaved African/African American people being declared free on January 01, 1863, pointing at this date as the end of slavery and there being no mention of what occurred in Texas nor the impact. There was also a decline in commemoration as during the depression many workers left rural areas for opportunities in the city. This meant there was no opportunity to celebrate this holiday as people of color were not granted leave from work unless it was a weekend or another holiday. During the civil rights movement, a resurgence occurred resulting in the efforts of many civil rights campaigners initiating celebrations and new traditions in the towns.

The push most recently for people to be educated on June 19th has been sponsored by organizations both local and national to promote a National appreciation of not only African American history but American history to cultivate knowledge, culture, tradition, and togetherness amongst all. The push led to President Joe Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Act into law as a federally observed holiday. “A day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take — what I’ve long called “America’s original sin”… “You know, today, we consecrate Juneteenth for what it ought to be, what it must be: a national holiday. As the Vice President noted, a holiday that will join the others of our national celebrations: our independence, our laborers who built this nation, and our servicemen and women who served and died in its defense. And the first new national holiday since the creation of Martin Luther King Holiday nearly four decades ago.”

Juneteenth and Mental Health In The Black Community

Juneteenth and Mental Health In The Black Community

For black Americans, Juneteenth represents resilience but also points to some of the very poignant issues of mistrust and racial trauma experienced in the United States. Racial trauma refers to the impact felt emotionally due to the stress of racism, and racial discrimination, as well as other race-related stressors such as stereotypes and barriers to advancement. Although Juneteenth is celebrating the end of slavery, the implications of racial trauma did not simply dissipate.

The impact of racial trauma can and has led to physical and emotional health concerns within the black community. Issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD impact daily functioning and relationships. In the context of receiving mental health treatment, it can even impact how clients are cared for and how willing they are to seek and receive care from providers, leading to more challenges.

A Call for Awareness and Education

A Call for Awareness and Education

For providers, it is important to note that this is (amongst many other historical examples) a possible cause of hesitation and barrier. Not that this one historical fact is the cause but that it has led to mental health stigma in the African American community. Acknowledging epigenetics, lack of research, and racial trauma can be one of the ways to bridge the gap in cultural competence. “This means that Black Americans are underrepresented in the studies and professional arenas most critical in identifying and addressing core mental health needs. This, coupled with overall challenges accessing mental health services, often leaves Black communities without much-needed support.” (Jones, 2021)

For everyone, having awareness, education, celebration, and acknowledgment let alone conversations can lead to the healing that is still needed in our nation as it pertains to race relations. It's not just a celebration of food or another day off work but it commemorates resilience, fortitude, history, growth, love, one nation, and justice for all. This is what we continue to strive for in our nation, growth to be better than our forefathers. So it starts with education on where we have been so we don’t go backward.

References:

History of Juneteenth ©juneteenth.Com.” Juneteenth World Wide Celebration Symbol, Accessed 31 May 2023.

Jones, Brittany. “What Juneteenth Can Teach Us about Racial Trauma and the Resilience of the Black Community.” The Jed Foundation, 25 Oct. 2021.

“Remarks by President Biden at Signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.” The White House, 18 June 2021.

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