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An old African proverb says, “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.” This is why Juneteenth is so important. We have statues, flags, and even holidays that point to the confederacy of this nation. We erect symbols of oppression to celebrate one of the darkest periods in America’s history. But on June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill that is a critical step in letting the lion tell her story of slavery, the Civil War, and emancipation. In signing this bipartisan bill, Americans are asked to “acknowledge and condemn the history of slavery in our Nation and recognize how the impact of America’s original sin remains.” Even with the bill’s signing, many don’t know what Juneteenth is, why it matters, or the woman who fought for decades to ensure this country’s memory is accurate and holistic.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, freeing all enslaved peoples across the States. While the news traveled and was enforced in many Southern states, it was 2.5 years before it reached Galveston, Texas, and was accompanied by federal soldiers to ensure compliance. On June 19, 1865, 250,000 people were finally freed from slavery. The day was later commemorated as “Juneteenth.”

While the holiday was widely known more in the South than in other regions of the States, too few people knew about the lag time. We weren’t told about the injustice of the wait poured into the wounds of people already subjected to enslavement, rape, and a host of dehumanizing practices. Lincoln signed the Emancipation, but there were slave owners that held out as long as they could until being forced to give freedom to people that never should have been enslaved in the first place.

In 2016, Ms. Opal Lee, the Grandmother of Juneteenth, had enough of the secrecy. She knew that wounds do not get healed if they stay covered up. Ms. Lee set out to walk from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. at a pace of 2.5 miles in the morning and the afternoon to signify the 2.5 years it took for slaves to be free from Galveston. Her walk increased awareness in communities along her route, and family members, concerned about her health, asked her to amend her plans by joining the local Juneteenth celebrations. While no change is ever achieved alone, if it were not for the efforts of Ms. Lee, many of us would still not know the significance of this day and the work necessary to secure a basic human right for Black Americans.

As you take time to celebrate today, in the words of Ms. Lee, I want to remind us if people have been taught to hate, they can be taught to love, and it is up to you to do it."

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The Little Mermaid: Representation Matters

When I was growing up, a few things were normal to see. Men were doctors, and women were nurses. Men were principals, and women were teachers. Men were pastors and women, well, did everything else. Then I noticed it in color, too. White women were on magazine covers. Black women were only on Black magazine covers. White women were on beauty products. Black women's beauty products were hard to find. White girls were princesses, and Black girls were not.

That was until 1997 when Roger & Hammerstein gave us our first Black princess, with Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother. It would take Disney a few years to catch up, but I could finally see myself as appropriate for the make-believe screen when Tiana became the princess that saved the frog in 2009 - and by then, I was grown! So it's more appropriate to say MY KIDS could finally see themselves and, more importantly, that their skin was beautiful and worth loving on the big screen.

With the announcement and subsequent blowback of Halle Bailey as the Little Mermaid in Disney's live-action remake, let's discuss why this is important. LaDawn Taylor, the real-life Tiana, explains the weight of representation, "I didn't always see myself as pretty or someone to look up to, but being Tiana showed me I was all this and more. It allowed me to be seen as Black and beautiful and accepted for who I was by people from all different cultural backgrounds and nationalities."

All little girls need this opportunity. To see themselves as pretty. Wanted. Valuable. Smart. Capable. And as a viable member of their communities and the world. Where do Black girls still need to see themselves? Do they need to see Black women on the organization's board you influence? Do they need to see themselves in more of the health industry? Do they need to see themselves leading research in the sciences?

In the words of Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, "You can't be what you can't see." Mrs. Edelman, a Spelman College and Yale Law School graduate, has spent a lifetime working to ensure that Black women and women of all colors can see themselves in areas where oppression has tried to keep us out. She has been a lot of first. The first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. The first Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. The first woman elected by alums as a member of the Yale University Corporation. She has spent a lifetime helping Black girls and young girls, in general, see themselves in places where injustice has said they do not belong.

We can influence how future generations of young ladies see themselves and if they see a route to fulfilling their purpose in the world. Disney is make-believe. We know that mermaids aren't real. The issue of representation is bigger than the Little Mermaid. It is about what a mermaid of color represents. It represents our progress when children of color can see themselves in spaces and on screens that have historically been off-limits. The blowback represents the miles we still have to go before we sleep.

Let's walk in the direction of resolve. Make plans to see The Little Mermaid on opening weekend when sales matter most. Regardless of your race, your attendance shows support for children who go underrepresented in so many other areas of life. It's a step of solidarity and unity for voices that go unheard. It's making yourself a part of progress.

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If Cornel West is correct, and "justice is what love looks like in public," we have two generations of kids, students, and young adults looking at the Church to see if we love in public the way we say we do in private. Generation Z (23-14 years old) is now leading in social spaces. Generation Alpha (13 years and younger) is watching today's events and getting to the age where they are questioning the behaviors of the adults around them. According to the Barna Group, Gen Z has an incredible interest in faith, but they want to know what faith has to do with love, specifically love in public. Gen Z, and younger Millennials, will raise Generation Alpha and wonder how the Church will make the world more just for their children. For the Church to resemble the love and justice that Gen Z is looking for, we need to:

Tell stories that provide context! Our children can handle concrete examples of justice and injustice. We must remember that no one, and no society, gets free while lying about who they've been. Many in Gen Z grew up with an African American President. Generation Alpha has or will have friends and classmates with two-parent homes where both individuals are the same sex. And many of them have experienced women in leadership positions. Diversity is not new to them. Because of that, we must remind them that America has a long history of injustice to give them context regarding how far we still have to go.

Love people in a way that shows the love of God! The first commandment is to love God. The second is to love our neighbor. This is a great time to talk about love as a verb…an action word! Love rejoices in the truth, protects others, trusts the good in people, and always hopes for the best (1 Corinthians 13: 6-7, NIV paraphrase). Look for tangible ways for your children to show love to people on the fringes of your community. Instead, it is a kid that gets bullied at school, a prayer walk or rally with your church, or going and feeding others at a local homeless shelter. Taking love from the abstract to the concrete will help them connect the private conversations about love to the public actions that further justice.

Do Justice! Love Mercy! Walk Humbly! Micah 6:8 tells us what God requires of us. Living a Christian life is not just about going to heaven but about how we show God’s love here on Earth. Justice, mercy, and humility are how we show people how much God loves them. Doing justice requires that we value every person. Loving mercy means that we forgive people who do wrong. And walking humbly means that we are open to acknowledging that we need God’s help to make the world a better place. We are working for a better world because we believe in justice. We forgive those who have carried out acts of injustice. And pray that God gives us the continued grace to be His hands and feet of love in a hurting and sometimes hostile world.

Increase our strides so they can see us increase progress! In conversations with your kids & students, remind them that each act or display that values another human being is a step towards making our whole world more just. Acts of justice and love are not quick fixes. Humanity is sinful, and the fight against that sin is ongoing. It requires more than just one action; it is a lifestyle of responding to hate with love and sin with grace. It will require all of us to treat everyone the way we want to be treated.

The Church serves as a God of love. Her people, in order to have credibility with the next generation, must exhibit the character of the God they claim to serve. There is a generation waiting to see if the people that serve a loving God will also love the people in the world.

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