158 years ago today, a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned about their freedom, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had declared them free from slavery. The anniversary of this event, recognized as Juneteenth, commemorates African American liberty, resilience, and strength in a way that pushes back against the anti-Black institutions of the United States that perpetuate systemic racism. As we celebrate this history, we also ask the question: what does real, full freedom look like?
This time of celebration often invites reflection on the current state of Black liberation movements in the United States—on how far these movements have progressed and on how they continue to face barriers. Generations of racial justice activists have advocated for social, cultural, and legal advancements that more fully realize the country’s ideals of equality and inclusivity for all. For many, Juneteenth serves as a period of recognition and honoring of these efforts.
At the same time however, as scholars like Michelle Alexander and Angela Davis have noted, anti-Blackness continues to manifest itself. Institutions police Black communities and incarcerate these communities at alarming rates—especially when compared to other racial groups in the country. The Prison Policy Initiative found that racial disparities are starkest for Black Americans, who make up about 38% of the incarcerated population despite only making up about 12% of American residents. This is in contrast to White Americans also constituting about 38% of the incarcerated population while making up about 60% of American residents.
Likewise, slavery remains allowed by the United States constitution as a punishment for crime. In a 2017 study, the Prison Policy Initiative reported that incarcerated people earn $0.86-$3.45 per day for the most common prison jobs on average, while these jobs pay nothing in at least 5 states. Under such conditions, African Americans who are targeted most in this era of mass incarceration are stripped of their freedom.
On this Juneteenth, A New Way of Life pays tribute to the abolitionists who have mothered and continue to mother the freedom movement. Our mission continues—to empower communities with opportunity where justice-impacted women can heal, excel, and lead while disrupting systems of oppression and harm. We persist in dedicating ourselves to mitigating the effects of and ultimately eliminating mass incarceration so that we might be a freer and more just society.