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What does Juneteenth mean to me?

Alex Young competes in the men’s hammer throw qualification round at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on August 2, 2021 in Tokyo.

June 16 was the true Independence Day of the United States, as many Americans were never truly free on July 4, 1776. This day of freedom did not include those who were enslaved and devastated by the systems racists established on this earth. Juneteenth is for my ancestors who fought tirelessly to regain their freedom in a country that never loved them. Juneteenth is a day to commemorate the legacy of freedom fighters who have been eclipsed and left out of the textbooks. Juneteenth is just a small step in the right direction to honor all Americans and their contributions to the United States.

My ancestors contributed to the ideal of the United States of America. They believed strongly in their own personal and racial freedom, but I believe they were deeply committed to the ideal of America. They believed that all men were created equal with certain inalienable rights. I say this as a living descendant of a Civil War veteran who fought for the Union to gain his freedom. He fought for equality and advancement for black people in this country, and he fought to make America a more perfect union.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, among which are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” – United States Declaration of Independence, paragraph 2 (1776)

June 19, 1865 is Independence Day because it was the last day in the history of the United States when everyone in this country was officially free. The 4th of July was the cornerstone of what we call American freedom, but it was never the cornerstone to seal our freedom. Juneteenth is held close to my heart as my people were finally free. It was the first time in American history that ALL peoples were granted their first steps toward freedom.

This country leaves my soul in conflict. I say this as someone whose family members fought tooth and nail for this country to be treated as strangers in the very country they fought to protect. I know that this country continues to move forward and that measures of change are underway. Juneteenth is a solid reminder that no matter the circumstances, black people claimed freedom in a not-so-perfect union. That our lives are forever woven into the very fabrics of this country. Juneteenth is a celebration of victory, joy and above all progress for a truly equitable future.

alex young
Men’s Hammer Throw, Olympian 2020, JP