By Shahid Abdul-Karim,
When the Rev. William Mathis reflects on the meaning of Juneteenth, he said he believes black Americans should begin to take ownership of their own destiny.
Reflecting on the celebration this historic day of freedom, Mathis, 49, program manager for Project Longevity, the city’s gang cease-fire initiative, said blacks in New Haven need to practice group dynamics and collectively pool their resources, through economic empowerment, education, social programs, and use political capital to leverage power and freedom within the black community.
“We need to stop struggling to sit at the master’s table, where the master dictates and drives our agenda,” said Mathis, who also serves as pastor of Springs of Life-Giving Water Church. “If we are not permitted at their table, then we are struggling with one another for the crumbs that fall from the master’s table,”
Today marks Juneteenth, which is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free, according to juneteenth.com.
This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which became official January 1, 1863.
The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans as there were too few Union troops to enforce the order, but with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome resistance, the website said.
Khalilah Brown-Dean, 37, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said Juneteenth not only means self-determination, but more importantly, it means power.
“Freedom is about choice, its about power over the choices we make, power over the vision we set forth for our families and being able to have control and direction over those choices,” Brown-Dean said.
“Freedom isn’t just a legal definition of saying we are no longer physically a slave or categorized as property, but its having the mental and intellectual freedom of recognizing something bigger than where we are now and having the opportunity to purse that,” she said.
Brown-Dean also said that the biggest impediment for New Haven is that people are tired, “People are tired of crime and violence and feeling like our community only matters when something bad happens,” she said.
She noted the importance of institutional accountability and said that young black men and women need to take personal responsibility and see that their intrinsic value as not being defined by material things.
African-Americans’ buying power is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015, according to “The State of the African-American Consumer” from Nielsen and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers across the U.S.
Clifton Bush, 67, associate professor of social change and movements in the U.S. and the world at Springfield College, said, “We may have individual mobility within the structure of this society, but until we all have that opportunity for upward mobility we all are limited to what we can do.”
“We have to recognize the collective effort to organize internally, meaning; economically, politically, and socially, then we can open up our doors to society, because we’ll be able to mentally, spiritually, and physically deal with the onslaught of the oppressor,” he said.
“No African is free, until all Africans are free,” Bush said.
Rodney T. Cohen, 46, assistant dean and director of the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale University, said some young people have owned victim-hood and can’t fully grasp the importance of Juneteenth.
“Many young people in our community don’t know they’re free to function and engage in a free and open society, because they are still operating in the mind-set of deficiency, victimization, and as if there are invisible barriers or some mystical man stopping them from propelling academically or otherwise,” Cohen said.
“We have now owned victim-hood and have a monopoly of being a victim, because a lot of this is subliminal and used as an excuse or a crutch for not moving forward,” he said.
Cohen said some in the black community have taken on an oppressive spirit.
“I tell my students when we talk about the institution of slavery, to never refer to those individuals as slaves, but to refer to them as enslaved humans or enslaved Africans, because slavery denotes your condition not your humanity,” he said.
“You are not a slave, but were enslaved, but once we take on the victim statehood or embrace that, now you think that’s your condition and this is who you are in perpetuity,” he said.