By Laura Brummett

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, Gen. Gordon Granger broke the news to the enslaved population that they were now free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation became official on Jan. 1, 1863, it took the Union troops two and a half years to get the news to the slaves in Texas.

The slaves were subject to 30 extra months working for their masters when they should have been free. Juneteenth is now commemorated as a day of celebration and remembrance.

Five Sanford-area activists gathered together on the night of June 22 to discuss what Juneteenth meant to them, and broadcast their speeches to the public over a Zoom call.

The call was hosted by Walter Ferguson and his company, Thrivent Financial.

Daniel Owens, associate pastor at Life Springs Church, was the first to speak, saying that similar to the slaves in Texas, some people in today’s society still have not gotten the message.

“Freedom doesn’t mean you walk around not bound up,” he said. “Freedom starts in the mind.”

He encouraged people to use their freedom to go to city council meetings and county commissioners meetings and speak up.

Owens shared the story of driving home from a weekend at the beach with his daughters and niece, when he asked the girls what they thought of the murder of George Floyd and the movement that has followed.

“Uncle Danny, I’m scared for you,” Owens’ niece said.

Owens said he was confused at first, wondering why a young girl would be scared for a grown man.

“She did not just see George Floyd there, she saw her Uncle Danny,” he said. “A lot of children did not see George Floyd, they saw their relatives, they saw their daddy, they saw their uncle. They saw the people they love with their neck under another man’s knee.”

Jeanette Peace, who is also the vice president of the MINA Charter School board, said that despite all of her years of education, she only recently learned why Juneteenth is celebrated. Like Owens, she said that many people still haven’t gotten the message.

“Many Americans, some Democrat and some Republican, are just as uninformed about race as those slaves who spent an extra two and half years working for their master,” Peace said. “They don’t understand why we’re upset.”

Racism isn’t just about whether or not you have Black friends, she said.

“True patriotism isn’t about the flag, it’s about equality and justice,” she said. “Have you gotten the message?”

Her daughter, Jeneé Peace, a former Lee County High School teacher who will teach at the charter school, said this was the first time in her life experiencing people who don’t look like her being receptive to her experience. She said words are just words, and the Emancipation Proclamation was itself just words.

“In conjunction with words put on paper, we must have actions,” she said. “We need the actions of our allies, friends and enemies. Progress must be about more than just words.”

Juneteenth, she said, reminds her that real change doesn’t happen overnight, and that it has to be organized, unified and long lasting.

Tamika Dowdy created a nonprofit called This Has To Stop after the death of her son in 2018. The initiative aims to stop violence, drug abuse, the stigma behind mental health and now racial inequality. Dowdy said she remembered growing up and being the only little Black girl in her classroom, and asking her mother why that was. She wants to make sure now that her grandson doesn’t go through the same things she went through.

“We shop together. We go to the movies together. We all eat from the same restaurants. Some of us go to the same churches. Our kids go to the same school,” she said. “We all bleed the same. We are more beautiful when we come together.”

Shawn Williams, a former marine and law enforcement officer and current pastor at God’s Promise Church, told the story of when he was a police chief driving down I-40 on one of his days off. He got pulled over, he said, and he knew being a Black man that he had to keep his hands visible on the steering wheel, because his life depended on it.

The officer who pulled him over walked up to the window and called him “boy,” not knowing that Williams was himself a police chief in a different city. Williams took the disrespect, but later in the courtroom got the victory.

“I got the last laugh because education is power,” he said. “You have to realize that you cannot win the battle on the street.”