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The Celebration of Juneteenth

Here we are in 2021- again approaching the celebration of Juneteenth, now a more widely recognized holiday since it’s splashy reintroduction in 2020. While the name itself hints at the ambiguity of its origins, it marks the freedom of all slaves in America. Although it is unfortunate that the date exists and requires celebration, it is important to note the Emancipation of slaves two years prior did not provide true freedom for everyone. Even today, 156 years post slavery, we are still grappling with the concept of freedom for all in America. For many black Americans it is impeded by social injustice, as well as institutional and systemic racism. The impact of these repeated traumas on the mental health of black Americans is incalculable. If we truly do not have the actual feelings, reality, and opportunities granted by the concept are we truly free?

The journey of being black in America has never been an easy one. On a blisteringly hot day in August 1619, the first 20 slaves were brought to the shores of Jamestown, Virginia from the country of Angola. With those first steps, the fight to maintain any sense of dignity and worth while being Black in America began. All throughout American history the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been allusive and just out of reach. Despite this the fight for freedom continues with black people in America asserting “I am a man!” during the civil rights movement and today with confidence shouting “Black Lives Matter”. Many others have immigrated to this amazing land of opportunity that Baltimore’s own Francis Scott Key most beautifully described as the “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave”. It is most certainly true that it is the reality that it takes a huge measure of bravery to endure a never ending uphill fight for liberty and equality.

To those who say “That was in the past. Just let it go and get over it,” fail to understand that the ever expanding field of epigenetics has demonstrated that trauma is passed down through generations by way of DNA. This means that we carry with us the pain of our ancestors. We carry in every cell of our bodies the violence inflicted by chattel slavery and the 156 year fight for equality. As such may we never allow the suffering of our ancestors to have been in vain. We must also be guardians of our own minds as well. The constant airing of graphic murders of black people on television and social media carries with it its own set of horrors. The result is our communities are now living in a constant state of continuous traumatic stress.

2020 left us with a mandate that our voices will no longer be silenced. We will continue to fight against a system that has attempted to hinder us at every turn. On May 25 of this year we commemorated the 1-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd. We say his name so that unlike the 20 slaves that were brought here in 1619 and the millions of nameless others that followed, he is not forgotten. In 2021 the fight continues. We fight for an America where Breonna Taylor can sleep peacefully. An America where Trayvon and Ahmaud’s mothers know they will make it home safely, and Botham can eat ice cream on the sofa after a long day.

Yes we must continue to fight but we also need to begin the long journey of healing. For our sake. The time has long since passed to view mental health as a luxury. There’s too much at stake. The well being of not just you, but that of your families, and communities hang balance. We must break the stigma of mental health and allow equality in health care access to all. At BTST Services, we have a highly trained staff of psychiatrists, therapists and counselors who are culturally competent, skilled, patient, caring and ready to meet you where you are, in your journey of healing and wellness.

As proudly embossed on the streets of Baltimore, “BLACK LIVES MATTER” is only the beginning of the conversation, in this city and globally. The time is now to make a priority of both our physical and mental health. We must make paramount the oversight and development of our communities. Additionally, we must continue to strive and invest in ourselves. .