Health & Wellness

Celebrate Juneteenth: 8 ways to reflect, connect, and find joy

Learn about the history and meaning of Juneteenth, then check out ways to make the holiday your own, whether you’re volunteering, getting creative with kids, enjoying solo time, or planning a daylong party with friends.

When it comes to Juneteenth festivities, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Over time, this historic holiday has grown to encompass more than its origin story—and taken on profound personal meaning for many who celebrate.

Observed each year on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The first Juneteenth celebration took place on that date in 1865, when enslaved people in Texas learned their freedom had been granted by the Emancipation Proclamation. “One of the reasons Juneteenth is powerful is because African Americans transferred the pain of enslavement into joy,” says Diamond Webster, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City who specializes in racial identity. (Slavery was abolished in all states in December 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.)

Juneteenth’s significance has deepened in the 16 decades since, as the fight for Black equality in the U.S. continues. “Juneteenth is much bigger than ending slavery; it acknowledges the resilience and power that collective community can exert,” Webster explains. “Juneteenth reminds us that people are connected—and that engaging and nurturing your community and yourself is social reciprocity at its best.”

To that end, Juneteenth can serve as a springboard for engaging with Black history and culture, reinforcing connections with loved ones and neighbors, working toward systemic change, and/or simply stepping into your personal joy and power. “When you feel uplifted as well as a greater sense of rootedness, the community as a whole thrives,” Webster says. Read below for simple, inspiring ways to spend your Juneteenth holiday.

Throw a block party

Webster loves a potluck-style block party for fostering community bonds: Everyone’s invited, and a casual drop-in vibe encourages folks to come as they are. Try teaming up with a few neighbors to secure any needed permits, scrounge up basic supplies, and spread the word. Or, if you have the space, host a neighborly Juneteenth get-together in your yard or on your front porch. And know that however you choose to gather, food can enrich the significance of the day: WW’s delicious Juneteenth recipe collection tells a story in every bite.

Blast some anthems

Another reason to love this moment on the calendar: June happens to be African American Music Appreciation Month. On Juneteenth, try turning up the volume on tracks that evoke a spirit of liberation, whether you’re spinning Nina Simone from your home vinyl collection or streaming a Juneteenth playlist via a digital music platform. For 2021, Apple Music commissioned nearly 90 minutes of new music from artists such as H.E.R., Tobe Nwigwe, and Honey Dijon for its Juneteenth: Freedom Songs comp. Fire up your faves and let them move you in more ways than one.

Read with kids

Inspire the young people in your life with a group reading activity that centers and celebrates Black experiences. For ideas, check out winners of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which recognize African American authors and illustrators for excellence in children’s and young adult books. Honorees for 2021 include the poetic picture book Magnificent Homespun Brown and the young-adult verse novel Before the Ever After. (Supporting an independent Black-owned bookstore is another good Juneteenth move.)

Webster likes to follow family reading activities with a group art project that captures everyone’s responses to a story—say, with sidewalk chalk in the driveway. “Art in its many forms is so effective because it takes away some of the bounds of language so that we can express some of what we are feeling, seeing, and internalizing,” Webster says.

Devote the day to R&R

Given the tumult of 2020 and 2021, marking Juneteenth with an interlude of restful joy might be just what you need to renew your spirit. Webster’s advice: Choose activities that impart a sense of unhurried peace, and devote at least part of your holiday to intentionally engaging with them. (No work emails or annoying errands allowed.) Ideas include meandering along a nature trail, enjoying a nice nap after lunch, practicing meditation, or linking with friends for sunbaked day at the beach. The goal is to step away from the world’s expectations, Webster says—and give yourself the gift of stillness.

Bring on new voters

Throughout history, discriminatory voting barriers have prevented many Black Americans from casting ballots in state, local, and federal elections. On Juneteenth, many community groups run nonpartisan voter registration drives as part of an ongoing effort to build Black political power—and a more equitable representative democracy. Contact your local elections office to see about connecting with a scheduled drive in need of volunteers, or learn more about organizing a voter registration drive. Need to register yourself? Signing up online takes just two minutes.

Host a movie marathon

Pass the popcorn: For film buffs, Juneteenth can be a day to discover (or rewatch) Black-led films that explore racial dynamics in compelling ways. Critically acclaimed options include director Spike Lee’s 1989 breakthrough dramedy Do the Right Thing, Julie Dash’s 1991 intergenerational drama Daughters of the Dust, Cheryl Dunye’s groundbreaking 1996 rom-com The Watermelon Woman, and Ava DuVernay’s 2014 historical film Selma. Host your screening party in person or virtually—most streaming platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, offer a group-viewing option that allows pals to watch from different locations and trade commentary in a chat window.

Challenge the fam to a game

If you’re raising kids in 2021, you probably know all too well that entire weeks can fly by in a hectic, overscheduled blur. Playing games together on Juneteenth can be a fun way to take a break, decompress, and regroup as a family, Webster says. Webster suggests tailoring classic games for the occasion—say, by printing bingo cards with Black history facts instead of basic numbers—or busting out a specialized pick like the popular trivia game Black Card Revoked. And in case you’re wondering, friendly rivalry can bring a family closer, Webster says.

Start a journal

Juneteenth is a holiday steeped in history; it encompasses stories of anguish, triumph, jubilation, and everything in between. Starting a journal about your life experiences can be a way to “step into the holiday of Juneteenth by remembering that you have your own story,” Webster says. Some writing prompts she offers to get you started: What does the word freedom mean to you? How have your past experiences helped you navigate to this moment? Don’t put pressure on yourself to churn out perfect prose. Webster suggests starting with a quick timed session—say, five minutes—and allowing the words to flow in a stream-of-consciousness way. (Spelling definitely doesn’t count.)

And let it be said: These Juneteenth ideas don’t expire on June 20. Deepening connections with neighbors and loved ones, getting involved with your community, exploring Black culture, carving out time for yourself, and reflecting on your personal path and your place in history can help support your wellbeing all year round.

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Food writer and lifestyle journalist Brigid Washington is the author of the cookbook Coconut Ginger Shrimp Rum: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Epicurious, and many other national outlets.

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