I had the fortunate experience of earning a belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu, courtesy of Dragonfly Elite Martial Arts, one of the only Black-owned-and-operated Brazilian Jiujitsu spots in the nation. The founding origin of the fighting style is Japanese. Ju, in Japanese, stands for gentle and Jitsu means skill or art. Brazilian Jiujitsu is a mixed-martial art that focuses on grappling on the floor, joint locks, throws and chokes.
I’ve been on the bad end of some pretty serious choke maneuvers. And luckily, these maneuvers have taken place inside the safety of the dojo where discipline and respect of the art allows you to tap out when you can’t breathe, and then your opponent releases you.
But what if your opponent doesn’t release you? What if your opponent never allows you to be free?
Black Americans have been saying, “I can’t breathe,” for over 400 years.
The Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order to free slaves, was signed into American law by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. However, for some African American slaves it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that the decree of freedom was introduced. This acknowledgment is called Juneteenth. Many Black Americans celebrate Juneteenth as the official declaration of freedom in America.
It can be argued that we are still enslaved — institutionally, economically, socially and physically.
This week marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth — and today, we still wrestle with the question: Are we really free?
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the leadership staff of Juneteenth Social, an organization that uplifts, enlightens, and educates the Black community in many disciplines from social capital to workforce development.
I was eager to listen to their struggles, challenges and triumphs being millennial entrepreneurs, but I also wanted to learn their definition of freedom and why it’s important to fight in this moment.
“Freedom, for us has always been a place that many of us dream to reach.”
Aireal Anderson, associate managing partner, says, “Freedom looks and feels like the ability to stand up for ourselves without punishment. Today, we hurt, fight, stand with the protestors and for our freedom. We will continue to disrupt the systems until freedom is given to all Black, African Americans.
“Freedom, for us, in this country, is earned and not given.”
Aaron Jefferson, senior planning partner for Friend Raising, says, “We have reached a collective boiling point. It seems that every day another Black man or woman’s name is plastered on a shirt, mentioned in a news feed or painted on a mural. Their deaths? A spectacle for the world. We are not free until there are swift repercussions for those that murder our kin.
“Freedom, for us cannot be easily defined by one definition.”
Joseph Coleman, senior planning partner for Experience & Culture, continues saying, “We cannot continue to rally behind certain injustices that affect a portion of our community and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the rest of our Black men, woman, and trans-community that we oppress daily.
“Freedom, for us, has always been a convoluted concept.”
De’Ja Broughton, senior planning partner for People and Strategy, explains, “True freedom is a concept we currently have no understanding. It’s never been actualized for Black Americans. ‘Free-ish’ is the compromise they want us to settle, and we will not. We are done with assimilation. We will disrupt.
“Freedom, for us, is a life without the weight of oppressions.”
TJ Wright, founder and managing partner, finds it difficult to describe freedom. “Black people in America are at war, constantly fighting microaggressions, wrestling with fear and anxiety as we watch our people killed for the color of their skin. As a queer Black man, the idea of freedom is elusive — but we will galvanize our community and make the concept of freedom a reality for all my brothers and sisters.”
These are the voices of the next generation — it’s time to remove the knee from our necks. This is the moment in history where our freedom is actualized. No more bondage — it’s time to breathe — it’s time to celebrate Juneteenth, finally.
Alan Bacon is a humanity advocate, community leader, musician and innovator. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.