The month of June celebrates one of the most significant human rights achievements in American history. Freedom Day, or Juneteenth, documents the emancipation of all slaves in the United States. Recognized as a national holiday and a day of jubilation, June 19th serves as an opportunity to inspire, educate, reflect and grow. Generation BLK advocates for a better future for the Black community and creates a stimulating environment where the next generation can find support, guidance, and the tools needed to succeed.
In recent years, public integrity has shifted, and calls of action have been amplified across the country. Following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, an outcry for change initiated, and Generation BLK was founded as a part of that change. In June 2020, Indica Rivers, Shanell Ballard, Winter Lacey, and Shanti Matthews came together to form a non-profit organization that focuses on the prosperity of Black excellence through community events, recreation, and scholastic support.
“We put into it every month so that we can make sure we’re still able to provide kids and the community with things we never had growing up,” said Winter Legacy, a member of the team at Generation BLK, “We want to be the change.” As part of the organization’s outreach program, Black culture is celebrated through a communal togetherness unlike any other. Events like the Juneteenth Freedom Celebration in Scottsdale provide an opportunity to engage with one another and commemorate the resilience, joy, and solitude of so many.
However, Juneteenth is notoriously underrepresented in schools and not recognized in the national discourse. Juneteenth celebrates the day that came two and a half years following the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1983, which declared all slaves in the Confederate States were free. On the day of emancipation, over 250,000 enslaved people in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas who were unaware did not see freedom until June 19, 1865, nearly five months after the passing of the 13th amendment that stated neither slavery nor servitude shall exist within the United States. Even then, many were killed by slave masters before attaining freedom. This detrimental piece of history is what is not taught in school.
“I didn’t know what Juneteenth was until after college,” Legacy remarked. “I know Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks … I know who they showed was okay to teach us, they didn’t want to let us know that they held us for two and a half extra years after being permanently given freedom.”
Some speculate that news traveled slowly at the time, thereby increasing the duration between emancipation and freedom. However, that is not at all true. For instance, when President Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater, the New York Times had published coverage on his assassination the same night, and it was disseminated throughout the country within a matter of weeks. All news could easily reach from the east coast to the far west, yet only if those orchestrating news dissemination regarded the information as important.
“Most people don’t really know about Juneteenth, and I feel like it needs to be recognized as well as the whole Black community,” said Nadia Simms, a professional actress and creator of YummiPop Cosmetics. “They should definitely talk more about the cultures and current events like Black Lives Matter, Asian lives, and all those people, all these different cultures because it’s known and you need to know about it, especially going forward.” Advocacy groups like GenerationBLK are taking the initiative to educate people of all ages about Black history, culture, resources, and strategies for progression.
“That’s what we’re trying to change; that’s the mission of Generation BLK, to make sure that my children will know what Juneteenth is, my children will know the first Black millionaire, my children will know our history, not only just Black American history … that’s not where our history starts, our history starts in Egypt, it gets really deep,” Legacy elaborated. “Generation BLK is going to use that platform to do what our education system failed us with.”
The only way to move is forward, and the Black community exercises pride, joy, and leadership that cannot be deterred. “Black joy” means “Unconditional happiness, togetherness, and unconditional love and support,” Legacy said with a smile, “It means family and community, inseparable, undeniable joy; Black joy is contagious, it’s like a love that spreads.”
Generation BLK empowers Black youth to be inspired, connected, and educated so that they can redefine equality, compassion, and justice for the future of not only Black American culture, but all Black heritage throughout the world.
“This is why I do what I do; I have four kids of my own and it is so important for them to be comfortable in their own skin and for them to know that they will always be good enough, regardless of everything that we’ve been through, that they are capable of rising up and soaring,” Legacy explained.
Driven by a need for change and a passion for cultural expression, Generation BLK strives to better the community by expanding youthful minds and ensuring they have the tools to succeed. In the past year, the organization has generated revenue from donations that will soon fund its community outreach center where children can receive education, exercise, tutoring, and other activities to enrich their academic, social, and cultural experiences.
Social inequity plays an extensive role in American history, especially in regard to human behavior. Regions within the United States have been historically redlined, gentrified, and stratified to reflect socioeconomic status, and it doesn’t stop there. To this day, many neighborhoods are deprived of adequate living conditions and environmental integration.
“We need to be aware as people, especially African American people, we need to be aware of everything; we need to change the way we eat, change the way we see each other, all that stuff,” said Dorothy Simms, an Allstate employee and talent agent, “It’s very important because once we find it within ourselves to move forward, by ourselves, we can be that example for all the other future generations, and even just people around us, we can be that example for others, too.”
“It starts with ourselves, being aware of the environment around us, taking care of things,” Simms continued, “And making that change, being that change, showing people that you’re changing, and then everybody else will follow.” It’s evident that change initiated from within the groups of people that are the most affected by inequity, oppression, and injustice is the primary vehicle for progression. Taking matters into their own hands, the Black community is driven to be the change they wish to see in the world.
Moving forward, Generation BLK is reaching toward official recognition as a non-profit, accepting public donations through fundraisers, events, and online. Celebrating Black culture, joy, and excellence should be a year-long occurrence rather than a month-long observation, and it starts by supporting Black creators, entrepreneurs, and individuals everywhere.
“That’s what we believe in Scottsdale, anyone coming here, working here, visiting here, not only are they guests but they’re respected and you’ll always be provided dignity here in Scottsdale,” Mayor David Ortega expressed, “I say that because in the end, today it’s all about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and liberty meant freedom which is symbolized by Juneteenth; it really does mean freedom to be yourself and freedom to live in a community where we all can understand each other better.”
As we strive to improve upon the systems within society, we spread love, compassion, and support that cannot be deflected nor broken. As Nadia Simms eloquently stated, “We need to make a change – let’s make a difference, and it starts now.”
Discover more about GenerationBLK and donate here.