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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Mowers

The Human Narrative

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Juneteenth is on my radar this year in a way it never has been before. I think many Americans feel that way. I went looking for a graphic on Canva to share and decided to design my own. While I researched this morning to see what I should include in a graphic, I learned quite a bit. I thought I'd share...

It took over two and half years from the time Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation (ending slavery) to the time the last slaves in Galveston, Texas were told the Civil War had ended and that they were freed. That happened on this date, 155 years ago.

The Juneteenth flag is full of symbolism. The star represents the freedom of African Americans in all 50 states. It also represents Texas as the last slaves were freed there.

The bursting outline around the star represents a nova, or a new star. It represents a new beginning.

The arc (separating the red and blue) represents a new horizon and promise of what lay ahead for black Americans.

The red, white and blue represents the American flag and that slaves and their descendants were and are all Americans.

As a writer, I can't even begin to imagine the stories from that era when slaves were told they were free. I wonder how many stories have been passed down through families, told and retold with the same emotion of the people who lived it firsthand. I also think about our own national narrative and how we are on a journey to remember the past accurately, with great reverence and with a heart dedicated to loving each other.

I'm not sure how to celebrate today. But last night I did what I think I do best as a mom - I told my children a story. They laugh at me now when I start in. "Here we go! Mom's got another story for us." And I do. I always have a story. And though they laugh, they always listen intently and ask a lot of questions.

I think storytelling is one of the best ways to teach, or develop empathy in others, offer a new perspective or just plain entertain. I've found that it's the best way to teach my children many life lessons that they need to hear from their mom. Walking and talking together - isn't that one of the joys of parenthood? Of childhood? Of friendship?

So I told them stories last night about why Juneteenth is celebrated. They were quick to tell me all the pertinent history they already knew and they asked a lot of good questions. I answered them as best as I could, though I'm still learning myself. I'm learning and listening a lot more these days, to stories that are very different than mine but all a part of our human narrative.

As I'm a huge fan of Children's Literature, I'm always on the hunt to find books for my children to offer them a more diverse view of the world. I have not shared any books with them about Juneteenth. I also wanted to find adult recommendations. I found this list, as recommended by D.C. black educators. You can find the full article by Anisa Holmes HERE.

Happy reading!

Book Recommendations

Dr. Robert J. Patterson, Professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University

Chokehold: Policing Black Men, by Paul Butler In Chokehold, Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University and a former federal prosecutor, "makes the case that the criminal justice system is predicated on being unjust, and that criminalizing black people is at the heart of that injustice," Patterson says. "I think that it's very relevant at this historical moment."

White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo "For white readers, they have to approach the text by suspending every assumption that they have about race, racism, the criminal justice system and American institutions more generally. If they go in assuming they're not racist, they'll miss the point," Patterson says.

Dr. Amy Yeboah Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Howard University

My Face is Black is True, by Mary Frances Berry "This book talks about the long history of reparations for African people and how Juneteenth becomes this 'Now what?' moment," Yeboah says. It talks about what happens after freedom, what it means and touches on issues of reparations, personal compensation and reconciliation.

The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton For Yeboah, this book is a vital read for Juneteenth because it addresses collective memory and the reclamation of identity through the lens of folklore. "Juneteenth becomes a celebration of young people, old people, of our history, education, food, parades and representation of self." For white readers, Yeboah says, "the question becomes 'Do you continue to live off the privilege that was sacrificed on Black bodies, or do you do something different?'"

Daleisha Myers Fifth Grade Teacher at Tulip Grove Elementary School, and 2018 "Teacher of the Year" for Prince George's County

The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson "This is a book that I've used in my class in the past... and I found it very easy to help children talk about the difficult subject of race," Myers says. The book is about "a metaphorical and literal fence" that separates the African-American side of town from the white side. The story chronicles the children of the community's desire to cross the fence, over a backdrop of historical context.

Juneteenth for Mazie, by Floyd Cooper In Juneteenth for Mazie, author Floyd Cooper touches upon conditions in slavery, emancipation and the historical significance of Juneteenth as a holiday, as told from a father to his daughter. "I think all children could benefit from learning from this book. Literature is an opportunity to allow them to learn within four walls, but then take their learning outside of those four walls to impact change in our world," Myers says.

Dr. Keith D. Leonard Associate Professor of Literature at American University

Incendiary Art, by Patricia Smith "In this book of poems, Patricia Smith captures the art of survival in the face of the insidious violence of a society that could do what it did to George Floyd after having done what it did to Emmett Till. With compassion for our urgent, sometimes desperate yearnings for freedom, and with sympathy for how that urgency sometimes gets expressed in the defiant violence of urban uprisings, Smith reveals just how powerful, how truly incendiary, is our beautiful struggle to survive and maybe even to thrive," Leonard wrote to us in an email.

Don't Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith "In these personal poems of yearning, Danez Smith pursues a self-affirmation rendered difficult and painful by the harsh languages and the limiting scripts of manhood and by the hateful names of racism, both of which work to diminish the love he, through his characters, wants to share... Not for the faint of heart but certainly for the heart, Don’t Call Us Dead in all of its mourning ultimately affirms our vitality," Leonard writes.

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