What Juneteenth means to me: A Q&A with Benjamin Pasley

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In earlier years it was called June  Nineteenth and over the course of time was shortened to become Juneteenth a celebration of the formal abolishment of slavery that took place in Galveston, TX, June 19, 1865. With President Joe Biden signing legislation establishing Juneteenth as a U.S. federal holiday, and Governor Sununu recently signing a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday, supporters find further validation to amplify and honor Black ancestry.

Manchester NH celebrates the value of black life with its second annual Juneteenth celebration with co-director of the Manchester Juneteenth Block Party, Benjamin Pasley.  

Ben Pasley is co-director of Manchester’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Courtesy Photo

CC: What in particular would you like the community to take away from this year’s celebration?

One thing I would like the community to take away from this year’s celebration is that this isn’t a trend. This isn’t a political stunt or grab to attract a certain demographic, this is a celebration –  to celebrate freedom that wasn’t given to us. This is a celebration for people of color, not to exclude any else but the mentality is Black first when in so many areas in life we aren’t.

CC: How were you introduced to the holiday and what does Juneteenth mean to you?

I was introduced to the holiday by self-education. Last year during the Aubrey Graham and George Floyd murders, a fire of self-discovery, black history, an understanding of who we are as a people and justice ignited and I’ve been feeding the flame ever since. That’s what led me to discover Juneteenth. Juneteenth means to me what Independence Day means to Americans. Yes, I am an American but I am an African-American and Juneteenth resonates with me more as when my ancestors were freed from slavery.

CC: What suggestions could you share about how to respectfully observe Juneteenth?

To be completely honest, I believe this is a day for white people to just observe, respectfully. No questions, no what does this mean, no advice, no explanations … if you want to join in celebration just enjoy being in the presence of your black friends and acquaintances and celebrate their joy from this day.