“It starts with knowing your history, knowing exactly what was stolen from you

Jasmin Barnett listening to civil rights legend Flonzie Brown Wright, who was the first African American woman elected official in Mississippi post-Reconstruction.
Jasmin Barnett (left) at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum listening to civil rights legend Flonzie Brown Wright, who helped register thousands of voters and was the first African American woman elected official in Mississippi post-Reconstruction.

Untitled For Now
By Jasmin Barnett

It starts with you knowing your history, knowing exactly what was stolen from you
A chance to reconnect with the truth
Go deep and get in the roots
Juneteenth honors the memory of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, and read President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation to the public. President Lincoln had signed the document on January 1, 1863, but it took another two and a half years for news of freedom to reach the nearly quarter of a million slaves in Texas.

Two and a half years,
It took two and a half years to learn that I had been free
From 1863 to 1865
Two and a half years,
It took two and a half years to learn that I had been free
To learn that my children’s children were going to be free
After years of slavery they didn’t think I deserved the dignity of freedom

A soul whose intentions are good
That’s who I am
I was born a descendant of royalty
I come from land, land full of trees and mysteries that whisper at night

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

I was born
In a land that
Wants me to pretend I am happy
Not acknowledging that the opportunity to be happy & free always seemed foreign to me
My ancestors were not born in this land
They were Raped, beaten, persecuted, humiliated in this land
Forced to this land, beaten
Forced to build the house that they couldn’t sleep in
Forced to lie down in beds that they could not get up from, raped
My great great great grandmother was forced to breastfeed little white babies when she had to neglect her own children, humiliated
Built and paved roads that they could never walk on let alone drive on
Hung from trees that they were forced to plant

I was born
In a land that
That wants me to pretend that the love has always been there
That the negro spirituals that led my ancestors to freedom still guide us there
…..wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the waters…
It seems as if the waters have been troubled
155 years after our great-great great grandfather was told he was free
if the love was there you wouldn’t have to erase my history and constantly lie to me
They want me to pretend
I can’t even comprehend why they would keep my history from me
How can I heal the wound if I don’t tend to the wound

I was born
In a land that
Wants me to pretend that I am happy
Happy for being in the land of the free
Even though being free came late for me
I try to understand

I was born
In a land where the original sin was slavery and we are no longer waiting on an apology
We are trying to find the steady ground while living in our truth

I was born
In a land that
Wants me to pretend that I am happy
Even though I am not, I am blue
I have been nigger, negro, colored, African american, Black
Depends on the level of white supremacy
When your identity keeps changing, it leaves you feeling smothered
Unable to lift your head so that you can recover

For fear that someone will find out who you are before you know who you are
Oppression will drive you crazy
Depression will kill you
Destroying me on purpose
Taking from me on purpose
A nervous breakdown
Breaking me down
Taking me under
Sacrificing my sanity
Giving my all
Only to receive the bare minimum
Going crazy hanging on to my sanity
Shooting us
Taking our education from us
Taking our humanity from us
Taking our dignity from us
Separating us
We went from alone together
Too together and apart

Land of the free and home of the brave
What makes you brave when you shoot bullets and then you hide behind your uniform
Killers keep killing, they look like politicians, they look like CEOs, they look like…
America, you go your way and I will go mine
I fought long and hard for this country to love me, that’s the whisper I hear from the ancestors
As if being ripped from my mother’s land wouldn’t destroy me
As if ripping this baby from her mother’s womb and telling the baby to fend for itself wouldn’t affect the child
Knowing that she was not born in bondage
But born from a strong lineage
From slavery to civil rights to the war on drugs
To covid19
Right back to racism

I am tired
Black bodies being lynched
Reminding us that we are not that far removed from blood on the trees
My sister, your mother, my brother, your father
I don’t like strange fruit but they keep serving it to me
I didn’t know blood was supposed to be on the leaves
But the trees are all covered in blood
The third verse of the star-spangled banner says

“Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

What’s so free about not finding out you are free because the world has never cared for people who looked like me
Implicit bias all on your Dias
They didn’t want our ancestors to know we were free

I was born
In a land that
Wants me to ignore the fact that my history has been erased from me
That my history has been taught to oppress me
To persecute me
To deny me
To ignore,

I was born
In a land that
Granted my great great great grandfather freedom
But kept him imprisoned
Until he heard about some foreign thing called freedom
Said we had to fight to be free, so he joined the fight
We had to free ourselves after being free
Emancipated and proclimated
What’s the fight for?
For the hope of the next generation
Jubilee, but hopefully we don’t wait too long to tell them to be free
to be happy
The inability to be free, because of your ancestry

January 1, 1863
President Lincoln signed an order that said all the slaves could be free
the day everybody should have celebrated
A celebration that should’ve traveled

But I was born in a land that
That kept over a quarter million people enslaved after freedom had been given
Now we know that freedom can’t be given
Freedom has to be taken
To be free, to have liberty
“the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”
Traveling backward
Cultivating history
Screaming at the top of my lungs
We have the power to act, speak, or think as we want without hindrance or restraint
We have the power to take back our freedom
going backward to go forwards
So I decided to write a poem about Juneteenth
So I could cultivate the history of the people
The history of my people
A special anniversary
The day of jubilee

Jasmin Barnett is a WKKF Community Leadership Network fellow. Passionate about helping young women of color find their purpose in life, she founded Ladies in Training to support the self-empowerment of young women and girls by providing them with the tools to make positive life choices and overcome the barriers of racism and sexism.

United States. President (1861-1865 : Lincoln). The Emancipation Proclamation. Bedford, Mass. :Applewood Books, 1998.
Key, Francis Scott, 1779-1843. The Star Spangled Banner. Garden City, N. Y. :Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1942.

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