This weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to be in the presence of greatness. Artstillery shared scenes from their upcoming play on Fair Park/South Dallas with an audience. I was the moderator of a panel of women whose leadership has shaped the narrative of South Dallas:
- Willie Mae Coleman
- Vicki Meek
- Alendra Lyons and
- Denise Montgomery
All these women are legends for their commitment, longevity, and determination to ensure that the community was not neglected through their activism for resources. For me, it was a reminder that so often, we think things happen overnight, but we are standing on the shoulders of those before us. I am grateful that Artstillery has captured their stories and experiences forever. I learned so much listening to them—there was so much I did not know. There is still so much we all need to learn.
Celebrating Juneteenth is a reminder of remembering the work of our elders and that it is imperative that we take the time to listen, learn, and collaborate to continue the work. There has been progress but there is so much to do. We often focus on what is wrong without giving credit to what’s right. Juneteenth is a reminder that so much information is intentionally withheld. The fact that our enslaved ancestors were not freed for three years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation should make us understand that the same tactics occur even now. If we are not careful, all these modern-day distractions will keep us so confined in focusing on our needs that we do not see the overwhelming challenges of collective and that we are all impacted whether directly or indirectly. We might see the struggles of our ancestors as something that happened in the past without recognizing the correlations to our current circumstances. We might see our ancestors as inhabiting plantations when the reality is that many of us are still enslaved to plantations today. We are captured by wrong thinking that will make us think that we are competing against others when those individuals could be our partners. We are captured by practices that do not serve us well. Mantras like I can sleep when I die is creating a culture of overworked and chronically ill people. We are captured by relationships that keep us from realizing our best self. We are captured by jobs, careers, and the pursuit of titles that reinforce the idea that more stuff is better while becoming entrenched in debt. We are captured by congregations that make us feel good but give us no substance to live. Juneteenth reminds us that as much as we would like to believe we are free—we are really freeish. It is time to learn from our elders, seek wisdom and begin to create a narrative that is in our best interest.
This narrative is understanding the power of God. Our ancestors understood this well. They understood the connection to God and that their joy and freedom was more than what others could dictate. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) Having a relationship with God did not stop their fight but it was a part of the fight for freedom. They understood their value when others did not. It is important that we begin to know that as well: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Our ancestors knew that no matter what was said or written, they fought for what they deserved for themselves and for those of us to come: “You, my brothers, and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
Listening to the elders on Saturday reminded me that they lived to make our lives better because of their love. I am so grateful to Opal Lee, the mother of Juneteenth, and our other elders who have persevered for all of us to benefit from their sacrifices. We owe them to continue learning, building relationships with one another, and pursuing God’s purpose for our lives. We owe them to free our minds.
Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the President of Soulstice Consultancy, LLC. To learn more about her, visit drfroswabooker.com.