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On this Juneteenth, I’m resting up for the work ahead

A global pandemic that disproportionately affects Black people is colliding with a racism that has persisted since the first Africans stepped on this country’s shores. It’s a lot to process.

The original Emancipation Proclamation, on display in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

I’m breathing today.

It’s Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the Texas arrival of a Union general in 1865 to inform enslaved African Americans that they were free.

If you didn’t know about Juneteenth, Google might have slipped it on your calendar this week as an official U.S. holiday. Companies around the country, from Twitter to Nike from local law firms to insurance companies, are declaring Juneteenth a paid day off for its employees. Sudden interest in Juneteenth, a day of fellowship and community celebration for many Black families, is a sign of the times.

A white awakening is sweeping the U.S. since the May death of George Floyd, the Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. Protests erupted in big cities and small towns across the nation. Confederate statues are coming down. Demands for more than failed police reform policies are no longer seen as radical mandates. Support for Black Lives Matter is up. Racism in the arts and nonprofit sectors are being exposed. Industries are removing leaders for past racist actions. Companies are flooding clients’ emails with solidarity statements, some of which are strong while others milquetoast.

Meanwhile, Aunt Jemima won’t peddle pancakes anymore. The NFL intimates Colin Kaepernick should return. And Johnson & Johnson finally is offering Band-Aids in Black and Brown skin tones. It only took them since 1921.

All of this in less than a month. Symbols and policies are being rethought.

Naturally, I question whether it’s en vogue for companies to espouse racial solidarity but later resume to business as usual. I keep getting texts from an unknown number selling Black Lives Matter T-shirts. I highly doubt the website is associated with the movement; the same company is also hawking save chubby unicorn shirts.

It’s certainly not the first time America has had to reckon with race but what we’re experiencing feels novel. We’re living in COVID-1619, the words of Rev. Otis Moss III in his virtual Trinity United Church of Christ sermon this past Sunday. A global pandemic that’s disproportionately affecting Black people is colliding with a racism that has persisted since the first Africans stepped on this country’s shores to be in chattel slavery.

It’s a lot to process. And as chants of “I Can’t Breathe” at protests continue in honor of Floyd, I want to breathe deeply.

In past years, I have spent Juneteenth with family at the Sweetwater Foundation’s community farm at 57th and Perry, enjoying cornbread, drumming and face-painting. This year as well, Juneteenth — also known as Emancipation Day — no doubt will give Black folk the opportunity to reflect on and toast some recent victories. And it will allow us to take a break from the grieving, deluge of suffering and emotional labor that come on the side.

Tricia Hersey today plans to grill salmon and simmer a side of collard greens. And rest. Lots of rest. She is the founder of The Nap Ministry. Rest is part of racial liberation, said Hersey, a Black woman and Chicago native now living in Atlanta. Known as The Nap Bishop, she’s currently on a three-week Sabbath in honor of Juneteenth and has shut off social media. She made an exception to talk with me while she grieves and restores.

“This is a good time to refuse and resist,” Hersey said. “When I say refuse, [I mean] the day is a day to celebrate and remember. And I’m all about remembrance and gaining strength from our ancestors.”

Remembering them should go beyond the trauma. Call out their names. Draw from their wisdom and subversiveness. “Gain strength and energy from their stories,” Hersey said.

The Nap Ministry is a balm. Hersey facilitates nap-ins and is an evangelist for rest in a world that constantly demands labor. She believes that our capitalistic, work and grind culture looks down on rest — or presents it as something you must earn.

“That’s silly,” Hersey said. It’s your divine right, she said.

A day of rest doesn’t have to be a nap. It’s about slow quiet moments with yourself.

With the uprisings and the push for justice, dreams and imagination are essential.

“I want people to see rest as a key foundation for a new world,” Hersey said. “We can’t get there if we’re exhausted.”

I’ll be resting up on this Juneteenth.

Because I’m tired of that old Band-Aid approach.

Natalie Moore is a reporter for WBEZ.org

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