The last slaves were set free in the United States on this day in 1865. Today, June 19 is better known as Juneteenth. On this day, African Americans celebrate their heritage through festivals and other events. 

It’s not only to celebrate our freedom but also to educate and reflect how far we’ve come. As a black man, every year when Juneteenth comes around, I sit back and personally think about my family and how much things have changed for me compared to my ancestors. 

My great-grandparents were sharecroppers in slave states before they migrated to California. My 96-year-old great-grandmother from Missouri is still alive and we are very close. The stories she tells me about segregation, radical racism, and working in fields for basically nothing is something I could only imagine going through. 

I’m blessed to say that I didn’t have to grow up as rough as my ancestors or as other African Americans in those times. But as I sit back and look at 2020, there’s still so much work that has to be done.

Racial inequality and cases of police brutality towards African Americans in the United States are the top headlines in the world right now. To be honest, it’s nice seeing that those two things are getting so much attention and awareness. 

But growing up black in America, this is nothing new to me. Every day, I live in fear. 

I can feel some people look at me differently just because of the color of my skin. I see when others get uneasy or feel unsafe around me caused by false stereotypes. These things bring me fear because of the unknown, I never know how someone is going to act or react when I am around them. 

My parents raised me to love myself and love the fact that I am black. But, at the same time, I was also told to act a certain way when we are around people of a different skin color, in particularly, around white people and the police. 

My parents told me that the outside world and police officers, who are sworn to serve and protect, are going to look at you differently because your skin is frightening. 

Police officers once pulled me and my friend over in my neighborhood, with their guns out, pointing at us, just to ask me, “do you even live here?”. 

That single event has caused me trauma and a forever distrust with the police.

This might sound harsh to some, like the video of the 8 minute and 46 second video of the officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. But that video doesn’t bring me any new emotion because cops killing blacks egregiously is something I’ve been cautioned about and aware of since I can remember. The rest of the world is just finally beginning to speak up about it. 

I understand that African Americans were legally set “free” 155 years ago and many in between then till now fought for our rights, but I want more. 

I want to feel free…free from this fear of what could happen to me for just being black. 

I want my parents to feel free so they don’t have to worry about their son while I go out on a run or go on a quick errand around town. 

I don’t want any African Americans to be fearful of becoming the next George Floyd, Trayvon Martian, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, and the list goes on.  

I want to feel that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” applies to me and all other African Americans, but it just doesn’t.

It’s time to expect and even demand a change.