Connecting the Emancipation of Juneteenth with the Liberation of Black Lives - Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow
We live in heavy and stressful times. I recognize this heaviness as the four “P’s” – Pandemic, Politics, Policing/Protesting and Personal. All Americans, but in particular African Americans, have been impacted by the Coronavirus in disproportionate numbers; most certainly through witnessing “Jim Crow” justice play out as only a minuscule number of people have been held accountable for the events that culminated on January 6 at our nation’s Capital; we are exhausted from the trauma of the violence and death of too many Black citizens. And I do not know of anyone who has not had some personal grief over the past year that left a scar. If you live with a health condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or are overweight, then “Rona” was especially hunting you down.
When the images were played of George Floyd being murdered in the street as he cried out for his mother to help him, I was unable to watch. I had my fill of Black trauma at that time, and I could not view another heartless action being perpetrated on a Black life. It was on a Sunday morning as I was preparing for our online church service that I happened to have the news on and the images of a young man named Elijah McClain, was being forcibly held down and injected with a drug that was meant to calm him, but police still believed him to be a threat and placed him in a chokehold until he died. On the footage we could hear him beg for his life by trying to explain, “I’m different! I’m different!” In the end, his pleas made no difference. This brother was going to die.
I lost it. While I am 30 years older than Elijah, I saw myself in his final struggle. Calling out, “I’m different” and wanting someone to hear and help me as a gay Black man in these United States. I was so injured after watching this young man lose his life. I wiped my tears and got online for church but could not keep it together. I began to cry again and needed to turn off my camera to compose myself before I began again. My four “P’s” converged at that moment and I realized I needed help. I needed someone to hear me.
Being a “Brother Outsider” within the straight Black community and the predominately white gay community, my voice gets ignored or undervalued. I know I am not alone, and I also know there are other “Sister and Brother Outsiders” who have it way worse than me. At least I have a pulpit (online and in-person) to share my thoughts and encouragement with others. Yet, I always think about those who do not have the privilege to express themselves or those who are permanently silenced, not because they have said or done anything wrong, but because of simply who they are.
At a time when the Black community should be focused on the liberation of people targeted harmful policing practices, some want to parse out those who are “different” from them. There is indeed a connection between the struggle to value Black Lives and the LGBTQ Lives. Many of us live at the intersection of multiple identities and we cannot parse out certain parts of ourselves just to be acceptable to someone who looks at us with suspicion.
Activist Mandy Carter of North Carolina, the founder of ‘SONG’ (Southerners on New Ground) wrote, “No one ‘owns’ a movement. The ideas and words are free for all to be inspired from. There were gay and lesbian Blacks who were discriminated against at lunch counters, drinking fountains, and segregated in society just as all other Blacks were in America.” The same is true today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. It is painful to hear “good church-going folk” say it is due to their religious conviction that they cannot welcome nor support a person who identifies as LGBTQ.
A coalition of equality organizations have banded together to create “The Colors of Pride” as a way of focusing on the Intersectional Equality of queerness, racial justice, and religious identity. This coalition is offering activities focused on the liberation of people targeted by unjust legislation, public polices and harmful policing practices and provides an opportunity to take a public stand to support equality legislation that promotes the safety of women, the LGBTQ community in general and the Trans and Gender Non-Conforming community specifically, and Black and Brown lives.
Juneteenth, the day of emancipation for enslaved Americans living in Texas on June 19, 1865, is a time of celebration many for Black folks today. Some will acknowledge June 19, rather than July 4, as the true Independence Day. During the tenure of the previous President of the United States, more attention has been given to the Juneteenth holiday and the massacre that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. All Americans must own the legacy of racism in our country and the continued impact it has on us. Many organizations have recognized the importance of acknowledging the intersection of multiple oppressions that many Americans face.
The Colors of Pride activities will conclude on Saturday, June 19 with a commemoration of Juneteenth. This Juneteenth commemoration will be unlike others that have come before as it will focus on the multiple identities of Black and Brown people and how the liberation of one group means liberation for all oppressed people. The Colors of Pride Juneteenth program premiers on YouTube on Saturday, June 19th at 12 noon EST / 9 am PST and is available to view any time after that. Interested persons can sign-up and find the link for this unique celebration at equalitytime.org/colorsofpride. They can also add their name to a growing coalition of religious people who support intersectional equality, receive a Tool Kit full of resources to become informed and active, and get access to recorded messages from nationally recognized religious leaders who discuss the impact of legislation that target vulnerable populations.
The goal is to create opportunities for allyship with the queer community, Black and Brown communities, and congregations by engaging religious communities to participate in pro-equality actions during Pride month. This is one way to have our all voices to be heard and valued, especially those not able to advocate for themselves.
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow is the Board President of Inclusive Justice of Michigan, a staff member of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion, and the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.