WORDS by Davon White

(L to R) Bob Zellner, Bernard Lafayette, Kate Lafayette, Davon White

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve struggled with how America has shown up in response to racial injustice and police brutality.

I’ve tried to process and reflect internally, but in doing so, I have noticed myself bottling up more than I can handle. It is my hope that my recent realizations as a 23 year-old Black professional will shine some light for many of us.

After watching the video which nationally showcased the death of Ermias Asghedom as prime-time news, I knew I could no longer stomach watching death senselessly occur – especially the deaths of my fellow brothers, sisters, and heroes.

I’ll speak for myself when I say that as a Black man, I possess a sort of generational trauma that “takes me back” every time I HEAR of such videos. I don’t need to watch footage of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant… and the many others to be overwhelmed with a sense of mourning.

Despite the diaspora, we are still very much connected to one another. I have no choice but to put myself in their shoes.

Their spilled blood felt like my very own. Leaving me feeling physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually drained.

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Juneteenth Celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900

Most people assume that slavery ended with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, an assumption that is an enduring falsehood. It is sufficient to note that freedom did not come in a singular moment with the swift penning of a well-intentioned dictate. Freedom, instead, was a process, one fueled initially by self-emancipatory efforts. Of the nearly four million African Americans enslaved by the eve of the Civil War in 1861, more than 500,000 would risk their lives and abscond from their places of enslavement to find freedom anywhere—from the treacherous marshlands of the Mississippi River Delta to the bustling urban centers of Canadian territories, or the subjective security of Union strongholds.

They left on their own volition and altered the very aim of the federal government, an aim that shifted from one defined by the preservation of the union to one that privileged freedom over slavery. In April 1865, the surrender of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee and his army at Virginia’s Appomattox Courthouse, together with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by the United States Senate, ushered in the official end of slavery—for most. Enslaved African Americans in Texas would find a more challenging path to freedom, one that would lead to the creation of a widely celebrated and frequently misunderstood holiday—Juneteenth.

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Beloved Community,

I hope this message finds you all safe and healthy. My heart is heavy during this time of unrest and upheaval and the Project Pilgrimage staff stands in solidarity with all people who fight against white supremacy, systemic racism, and the senseless violence and murders of black men and women across the country. I am moved by the countless protesters around the world who have lifted their voices and so courageously marched for lasting social change.

The vibration we all feel right now is being produced by we the people taking action to advance the movement. Being part of revolutionary change is a long game and it’s imperative that we find ways to stay engaged after this moment subsides. We must show up at the local level and hold our elected officials accountable for the kind of racism and injustice that poured down on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and dozens of others.

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