Reflecting on Juneteenth

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This year for Juneteenth my team at the Detroit Justice Center (DJC) is reflecting on what true safety means, particularly in light of the horrific violence in recent weeks. We mourn those killed by gunmen who opened fire at a Buffalo grocery store, an elementary school in Uvalde, a hospital in Tulsa, and in countless other shootings. I keep coming back to a question I often ask: How do we create the types of communities that will allow Black people, trans people, indigenous people—and all of us—to have all of the elders that we are supposed to have? This question helps to center me in our work and reflect upon the legacy of the liberation struggles of our ancestors.

Our organization uses Juneteenth as a time to recharge, rest, and re-energize our own freedom dreams. Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery, and it also marks the early days of the Reconstruction Era. The question of that political moment, “what do we build instead of an oppressive system?” is a question that movement leaders and communities still ask today about systems that perpetuate poverty and violence.  

We have an opportunity to build new pathways to true safety—and we can take the lead of people across the country who are already doing it. We can learn from violence interrupters, restorative justice practitioners, community safety teams, youth-led healing hubs, and those championing cooperative economics. On a recent episode of DJC’s Freedom Dreams podcast, we spoke with leaders from Detroit Heals Detroit and Detroit Safety Team about how they are reimagining public safety and building the types of communities where every life is valued. 

In order for us to have all of the elders we’re supposed to have, we must transform the unsafe systems that leave people vulnerable to disease, violence, and premature death. If we see Juneteenth as not only a remembrance of where we’ve been but a marker for where we’re headed, we might find new opportunities to build safety together and heal from pervasive interpersonal and structural violence.