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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tré Watkins

On Juneteenth & Freedom

I can argue that Black Panther is this young century’s most essential cultural film. The story of an African Utopia, a warrior king, and some pretty kick-ass graphics are enough to take the crown. Still, Ryan Coogler’s most outstanding achievement was merging fantasy with life’s dreams. He showed us a vision for what we believed was always possible. He gave us a vision of freedom. In the penultimate scene, Michael B Jordan executes this line brilliantly. “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.

Photo: Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther (2018)

In one sentence, he makes it painfully clear that slavery or bondage, in his terms, was a worse faith than death itself. I agree, yet I think his analysis falls short. You see when our ancestors chose to toss themselves from the ships, stab themselves with sharp objects, or even drown newborns, they weren’t simply escaping bondage. They were chasing freedom. 

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the Union Army proclaimed that the enslaved persons were emancipated, meaning they were no longer legally held in bondage by private parties. What they did not proclaim, similarly to the Emancipation Proclamation delivered by Abraham Lincoln years earlier,  was that the formerly enslaved African-Americans were FREE. 

Words mean things. Emancipation means free from bondage. Freedom means to live without the constraints of this cruel, twisted world. 

Photo Courtesy: Adelman Images, LP - Brooklyn Public Library's "Brooklyn Resist" exhibition 1963

Every day since then, we have been fighting as a collective and individuals for our freedom. We fight in the streets and proclaim #BlackLivesMatter against a world that disagrees. We fight in the school rooms where we are told our limitations and eschewed for dreaming of being scientists or artists. We fight in the board room, where any signs of confidence are viewed as aggression. At the same time, we are simultaneously thrust into the public eye to be the scapegoat for our miserable institutions. We also fight in the bedroom to love who we choose, including ourselves. 

Our ancestors didn’t die horrible deaths in icy water just to escape slavery. If that were the case, why do our brothers and sisters rot in prisons for crimes of Blackness?  What they were chasing was FREEDOM. 

Freedom is the only goal worth fighting for y’all. 

It’s also the only goal worth living for and the only goal worth dying for. 

On this day, remember that our Emancipation was only the starting point. To truly be free, we must not forget that:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

—Frederick Douglass


“Freedom is never given; it is won.”

—A. Philip Randolph

But most importantly

“Have a vision. Be demanding.”

—Colin Powell

Today, I know I’m Free amongst all the social strife, economic fragility, and health crisis. 

And when I die, you tell them I lived as a FREE BLACK MAN!


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