By T’wina Nobles
Opal Lee is the grandmother of Juneteenth. For most of her life, she has advocated to make Juneteenth a national holiday. In 2016, she even walked from her home in Ft. Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C., traveling two and a half miles each day to symbolize the two and a half years Black Texans waited for emancipation.
At 94 years old today, Mother Lee is the epitome of the ancestor grandmothers upon whose examples of tenacity, strength, and vision undergird the founding of the Black Future Co-op Fund. At the time the Black Future Co-op Fund was created in June 2020 was a moment when we found ourselves between immense grief following the murder of George Floyd and the prospect of Juneteenth becoming a national day of acceptance of the true narrative of American history.
Mother Lee is representative of the ancestry that lives in each of us, and her persistent appeals to Congress to make the abolition of slavery an opportunity for national unity has been rewarded with the commemoration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
As we look back on the 157 years since June 19, 1865, we also look forward to what a truly liberated future for Black communities in Washington state can become.
While the Emancipation Proclamation that promised freedom to our ancestors still eludes us as their descendants and relatives, what is also true is that against all odds Black people have continued to find joy and hope amongst the despair. Our predecessors have turned June 19th from a day tied to brutal inhumanity to a day for celebration and unity.
The legacy of our liberation continues with Black Washingtonians. Recently, on June 5th, hundreds of Black Washingtonians joined together in person and virtually to share community-identified solutions for Black well-being in our state. Together, we began to formulate a vision for Black well-being through education, health, economic mobility, public safety and civic engagement.
At this Black-centered gathering, our emcee Resmaa Menakem said, “We are creating space to begin to metabolize what’s happened to us, so something new can emerge. We are building a future and resisting the ravages of white supremacy — not letting it take us under, but using it as a fuel for our freedom.”
We know Black Washingtonians in every corner of the state are forging our own solutions to the challenges in our communities. The ability to define for ourselves, speak for ourselves, and create for ourselves a future of our own design is the legacy of Juneteenth.
It is a time to envision what is possible outside of systemic oppression. Because 157 years since the last enslaved people were emancipated, liberation looks like our ancestors’ wildest dreams and feels closer than ever.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, we celebrate Opal Lee and the grandmother ancestors who have shown us how to be tenacious, strong, visionary and persistent in our mission to define a new future for Black Washingtonians. Together, we must continue to deconstruct our current reality, and manifest what liberation means to Black Washingtonians today.
T’wina Nobles is the inaugural CEO of the Black Future Co-op Fund, Washington’s first cooperative philanthropy created by and for Black people to ignite Black generational wealth, health and well-being. She also serves as Washington state senator of the 28th legislative district.