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Celebrating Juneteenth: Acknowledging the past for a hopeful future

By Pastor Joy

Thursday, June 17, 2021 

According to, Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.

I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and in our community, Juneteenth was celebrated more than the Fourth of July holiday. Community members from all over the state would gather for dancing, cookouts, and street parties – celebrating what we considered to be our freedom. As I look back on that time of my life, I reflect on how we normalized what we had, even though what we did have was insufficient for us to really thrive on. Everyone around us had the same limited access to education, health resources, and housing – we didn’t know at the time that we were celebrating our basic rights to be free but were still lacking access to our fundamental needs and experiencing extreme inequality. At that time, we lived to survive, not to thrive and that has left many with deep fracturing and trauma. 

At that time, we lived to survive, not to thrive and that has left many with deep fracturing and trauma. 

We must acknowledge those painful parts of our history to realize the possibility of hope and becoming mentally and physically healthy. In Sacramento County, I am really excited about some of the work we’re doing in our neighborhoods to address the historical and current trauma that my community faces. Churches are partnering with community-based organizations and mental health practitioners to provide sacred and safe spaces to have these kinds of authentic and vulnerable conversations about mental health. Previously, because these conversations were formally forbidden and stigmatized, they were taboos that hindered us from prospering and healing.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, I encourage the community to take a closer look at trauma and wounds that we have swept under the rug and avoided as these unspoken feelings can take a real toll on one’s mental wellbeing. I hope that while we honor this observance, allies in our community will explore and learn about how the historic barriers to education, healthcare and wealth-building opportunities resulted in the socioeconomic inequality in our society and how that still impacts individuals and families today. And, I hope the members of the African American/Black community can be more transparent and open and honest with one another. Until we are all free from stigma, discrimination, and systemic racism, none of us are free.

While trauma is real, so are hope, resilience, and mental health recovery.

Pastor Joy Johnson has served as the founding pastor of Higher Hope Christian Church for 8 years.  The church serves North Highlands and North Natomas and has a direct service ministry in 5 apartment complexes. 

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