What Juneteenth Means to Me
By Cindy Vander Kodde
If one were to Google Juneteenth, it would say “Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) which marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed.”
As a person of color and one who use to organize the Juneteenth celebrations downtown Grand Rapids for several years, I have a different definition or description of what Juneteenth is. For me and other African Americans it is a celebration of the end to slavery. It is often called the emancipation or Independence Day for all African Americans in the United States.
Slavery was “ended” with a pen by President Abraham in 1863, but the slaves in Texas did not know it. While other slaves had their freedom in most of the South, the slaves in Texas were still working and being used by the “masa,” even though the “masa” knew that they were free. The news of freedom finally arrived in Texas, two whole years later, on June 19,1865 and what a celebration that was for the slaves who realized that they were free men, women, and children. Freedom, that they had longed for, cried, and prayed, had finally happened. There was a great celebration and there is a great celebration to this day in Cities all throughout the United States to commemorate this event.
In Grand Rapids, each year, there is a celebration downtown on the weekend of June 19. It is a celebration open for all people to come and commemorate this event. There is music and art exhibits; ethnic food and treats; African clothes and wares. And lots of people to laugh and commemorate with. The smells of the fried chicken, collard greens and other African American cuisine fill the air. Booths are rented out and the festival stretches along Ah-Nab-Awen Park. The excitement is contagious.
I have been told that the celebration has been scaled back since I stopped organizing it years ago. This celebration was part of my job for MSU Extension. But the celebration continues each year despite the size. It is something that deserves to be celebrated and we hope to share this celebration with COS even if it’s just authoring this essay on what Juneteenth means to me. Freedom is such a wonderful thing. The slaves did not know they were free for, two whole years. But when they found out…… Can you see it? Can you imagine it?
As Martin Luther King once exclaimed, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty! We’re free at Last!”
Juneteenth (from Britannica.com)
Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19.
“In 1863, during the American Civil War, Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. More than two years would pass, however, before the news reached African Americans living in Texas. It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.
“The following year, on June 19, the first official Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas. The original observances included prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals, and celebrants wore new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. Within a few years, African Americans in other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition. Celebrations have continued across the United States into the 21st century and typically include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing.”
A Call To Racial Justice
The COS Antiracism and Reconciliation and COS Prisoners In Christ teams have issued a joint Call to Racial Justice.
The Call to Racial Justice includes two concrete actions to help ourselves and our brothers and sisters at COS to move forward on the journey toward “becoming an antiracist and multiethnic community of faith in Christ that intentionally recognizes, exposes and dismantles racism in all its forms.”
CRCNA Statement About The Deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor
In April 2020, the Christian Reformed Church made a statement on the various racial incidents that had occurred during the Spring. It is well-worth reading and considering this statement for ourselves.
Many of you will remember Jennifer Holmes Curran as a Resident Pastor who served here with us at COS a number of years ago. She is now a pastor at Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids.
In this article, posted on the “As I Was Saying” section of The Banner website, Jen describes having her eyes opened at a CORR Antiracism workshop, and she confesses that she is guilty of the sin of racism:
The title of this article is not overstated. I am racist. Racism is a sin against God and neighbour. My racism degrades bearers of God’s image, even while it distorts my own humanity. It is abhorrent in God’s eyes. And I am guilty of it. I am not proud of it, but I am not afraid to admit it. It is true, and I offer you my confession in hopes that it will open up a conversation that is often shut down by defensiveness. I believe that the practice of confession can help Christians to enter into these conversations bravely and humbly, finding our grounding in the grace of God, rather in our own perfection. I hope this can be a model.
Antiracism and Reconciliation at The Church of the Servant
In 2000, members of Church of the Servant began a focused effort to discern how we can become an antiracist church. With the council’s endorsement, an antiracism team of nearly 20 Church of the Servant members began reflecting on this theme, setting goals, and finding ways to promote antiracism and reconciliation in all areas of the church’s life.
Some of the outgrowths of this work are the Understanding Racism Workshop, Congregations Organizing for Racial Reconciliation (CORR) and our sister church relationship with Coit Community Church. Read more about these three outcomes here.
Information and Advocacy
Current information on the theme of racism is available to members through these means:
- Resource cart. The Antiracism Team has organized a cart full of antiracism books, movies, and other resources readily available for people to borrow. Look for the cart near the welcome counter in the café area.
- Events. Throughout the year, the Antiracism Team plans opportunities to encourage the congregation to learn more about racism and how to dismantle it. Events include movie screenings, scripture studies, and speakers to guide conversation and learning. Our team, the church council, and our staff see the task of fighting racism as an important part of our congregation’s discipleship journey.
- Publicity. Through bulletin announcements, the Antiracism Team encourages our congregation to take advantage of workshops, seminars, and other opportunities offered throughout greater Grand Rapids.
- On the church website at Antiracism and Reconciliation Resources.
In 2004, the Christian Reformed Church synod gave an antiracism mandate to the churches. This statement helps motivate us to continue this work. The mandate is “to initiate and provide effective and collaborative training, programs, and organizing actions in ways that mobilize Christian Reformed agencies and educational institutions, as well as classes and congregations, to recognize, expose, and dismantle racism in all its forms and to experience true biblical reconciliation as a diverse and unified people of God.”
Church of the Servant Statement
Church of the Servant updated its antiracism/reconciliation statement in March 2013 (first approved in May 2007):
Vision Statement: Church of the Servant strives to be an antiracist and multiethnic community of faith in Christ that intentionally recognizes, exposes and dismantles racism in all its forms.
As a community of believers, we will
- address the connections between contemporary issues and the history of racism in our country, community and congregation
- recognize, expose and dismantle racism and its impact in our congregation in new and redemptive ways
- oppose racism in and beyond our congregation through the eyes of faith and scripture
- become an antiracist multiracial community, equally honoring every person and proclaiming each precious in Christ.