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Extra Special Juneteenth (Thank you Ms. Opal!)

The Juneteenth Festival this weekend will be a special celebration, both here in Fort Worth and nationally. A signing ceremony in the East Wing of the White House made Juneteenth, the 19th of June, a National Holiday. Words cannot express the joy and pride I felt as I watched President Biden sign the bill and hand a pen to our beloved Ms. Opal. Many prayers have been answered. Let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the bill and sent it over to the House where it passed with bipartisan support on Wednesday. I’m at Opal’s Farm all day so I didn’t here of the passage until last night’s 10 o’clock news. I never call anyone after 10:00 PM (I was taught a call after 10:00 better involve blood or it was completely socially unacceptable), but I had to call Ms. Opal right away. “You did it”, I cried.

“No, WE did it”, she said. “There have been so many people along the way who made this happen”.

I wouldn’t have expected any other answer. That’s the kind of person she is. I’ve learned much about true humility from Ms. Opal, but she earned the title “Mother of Juneteenth” from her many years of persistence and dedication to a vision. Many others worked to make this day a reality, but it was a “little old lady in white tennis shoes that gets in everybody’s business” (her description, not mine) that blazed the path forward.

She personifies Juneteenth. That’s why the holiday has come to mean so much to me. Her constant reminder that “no one’s free until we all are free” echoes through all we do at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. I’m amazed and proud I get to be a part of it all.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm for the last three years. I’ve listened to the stories and the history that I never knew. One story has always stood out. On Juneteenth, 1929, when she was only twelve years old, her family home was burned down by a white mob upset by a Black family moving into their neighborhood. I’d heard the story through media reports, but it was Ms. Opal who told me the one detail that had the greatest impact on me. She told me she decided that day so long ago “that I was going to hate what they did, but I wasn’t going to hate them” (the white mob).

That a twelve-year-old girl could have that spirit of love and forgiveness was astonishing to me. It makes perfect sense when you see her today. I’ve learned more about loving and forgiving others in the last three years than I did in the previous fifty!

Ms. Opal, I’m so proud to be a small, small part of your journey. Thank you for all you have done – not just for me, but for all of us. I’ve prayed diligently for this day. To see you honored in the East Wing of the White House by President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and so many members of Congress was the

was an honor to know, love, and be loved by you. It still doesn’t make my heart swell as much as when you said you were my grandmother too!

That being said…

Opal’s Farm will not be a Cowtown Farmers Market this weekend. We’ll be with Unity Unlimited, Inc., Ms. Opal, and hundreds of others for an extra special and one-of-a-kind celebration. Please join us at 10:00 AM for our walk with Ms. Opal from Evans Plaza to the Tarrant County Courthouse. The celebration continues with the I Am Juneteenth Festival at Panther Island Pavilion beginning at 3:00 PM and followed by fireworks at 9 PM. What a better way to begin celebrating freedom for us all.

Image: President Joe Biden hands a pen to Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021.
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“An individual has not begun to live until [they] can rise above the narrow horizons of [their] particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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#PeaceWithJustice – Inauguration Week 2021

I finished my morning prayer and meditation on the porch this morning and headed for the desk. I found this gem from Chalice Press in my inbox and had to share it with you all. Chalice Press is a great publisher with some amazing writers.

In honor of this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we share this prayer from Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters from his new book, Something in the Water: A 21st Century Civil Rights Odyssey.

A PRAYER FOR HOLY SOLES

Dear God,

teach me to pray

with my feet.

The steps of the ancestors were sturdy and strong.

They somehow carried them to cut down strange fruit

dangling in the breeze.

Up and down Montgomery’s hills,

To mass meetings, lunch counters, and courthouses

To face canines, tear gas, and water hoses

As bullets and bombs wrought martyrs,

Their blood still crying out from the deep.

LORD God,

teach me to pray with my feet.

For those felled while adorned with hoodie, for those who still can’t breathe, for those whose hearts have been broken under the weight of fathers suffocated on the street,

with hands raised,

“Don’t shoot!”

For Water Protectors,

For Flint,

For Women,

For Refugees,

For Hijab-wearing Sisters and their Brothers,

For the Dreamers,

LORD God Almighty,

teach me how to pray

with my feet,

That I might become a drum major for justice,

To march around Jericho’s walls

And monuments to White Supremacy,

Till they come stumbling down;

That I might say,

As did Mother Pollard to young Martin,

“My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

And that You, LORD God almighty,

May one day say to me,

“You have beautiful feet.”

Amen.

The Reverend Dr. Michael W. Waters is founding pastor of Abundant Life African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Dallas, Texas. As a pastor, professor, award-winning author, activist, and social commentator, his words of hope and empowerment inspire national and international audiences. (from Chalice Press newsletter, 1/18/2021

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“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

“If life knocks you down nine times you get up ten”, Edgar would always tell me. The greatest compliment I’ve ever received was “there’s no quit in him”. Despite failures (and there have been many!) I’ve kept pressing forward. Thank you to all those who stand up again. You’ve shown me what persistence means.

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What’s a “Black” Holiday?

I love being part of Cowtown Farmers Market. Market mornings are the high point of my week. I get to spend time with our regular customers and the vendors who have helped me so much along the way. All the division and strife our country is experiencing seems to disappear for a few hours.

We work hard to keep politics out of the market. However, I have a couple of bumper stickers on my truck that clearly define my personal political and spiritual stance. Usually, if any of our customers make a political comment, it’s folks who tell me they like my bumper stickers. It’s nice to know there are other Christians and Progressives out there in Fort Worth. Texas is not exactly known for social justice Christians and progressive politics.

I was setting up at Cowtown Farmers Market a couple of weeks ago. I was running a bit behind that Saturday. Customers tend to come earlier than the posted 8 AM start time. The market “old timers” – the regulars who have shopped there for years – get there early to get first pick on everything. The Covid crisis has also brought many new shoppers to Cowtown. The shortages at the beginning of the pandemic caused people to take a renewed interest in where their food comes from. Plus, outside markets are an excuse to get out and see others. Covid has isolated so many folks.

I was placing the week’s produce on the table when I heard someone remark “I don’t know if I can buy from someone who has a Bernie sticker on their truck”.

I looked up. A couple about my age stood there staring at me as if they were ready to pounce on any possible response I might say. I smiled, said “okay”, and went about my business.

Apparently, I didn’t give the anticipated response. The man declared, “That guy’s a socialist. Is that what you want?”

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have even responded to begin with. Some people don’t want to discuss an issue. They only want to argue – no discussion involved. Unfortunately, I nibbled on the hook a bit. “How’d you get here this morning?”

“I drove”.

“On a public road?”, I asked.

“Yes, but my taxes paid for that” he retorted. His speech was becoming louder and more antagonistic.

I tried to de-escalate the conversation. I casually remarked, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just know Bernie to be a good man. His was the only campaign to reach out and help our namesake, Ms. Opal with making Juneteenth a federal holiday”. I was praying they would move on. 

“What?”, the man asked.

His wife chimed in, “You know what Juneteenth is. It’s that black holiday.”

He grumbled, “Great. Just what we need – another black day off we’ll have to pay for”.

That’s when he set the hook. I bit down hard and wasn’t letting this one go. “You know buddy, I’ll make this easy for you. I don’t sell to racist Trump supporters.”

I guess he wasn’t expecting that. He gasped and hurriedly walked away.

I immediately felt guilty about my retort. Market is no place for such behavior (although I shared this with a couple of the other vendors and received big thanks). I take my job seriously. I represent Opal’s Farm to the community. I never want to cast the farm in a negative light. Moreover, as a non-profit we refrain from political endorsement and don’t identify as left, right, or middle on the political spectrum. Our main mission is to provide “educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination.” My reply to our visitor at market didn’t exactly reflect our mission.

When I told Ms. Opal about the interchange she replied, “Now you know what I’ve been facing all my life”. Her words have stuck with me since that day.

I wish I could see that couple again and have a real discussion, not an argument. That seems impossible in our country currently. If I’m honest, there was a time in my life when I might have thought of Juneteenth as a “black” holiday. Celebrating the freedom of a whole people is cause for celebration but it simply didn’t apply to me. There was no way to understand its importance because I didn’t share in the experience. At least I didn’t think so.

Part of the Juneteenth Caravan

It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. When I became the Farm Manager and part of Unity, I began to spend a lot of time with Ms. Opal. Although she retired from teaching in the Fort Worth Independent School District, she hasn’t stopped teaching. I’ve learned more about my community and myself in the last two years that I ever did in all my years at school and the education continues…

Ms. Opal

Opal Lee has spent a lifetime as an educator, activist, and advocate for making Juneteenth a Federal holiday. She always tells everyone that it’s a unifier – for everyone regardless of color. Today I get it. Juneteenth is not only a celebration of emancipation for black slaves – it’s emancipation for everyone.

It’s emancipation from old ideas and social constructs. I always leaned far to the left in socio-political matters. However, being “liberal” is its own brand of white (or class) supremacy as well intentioned as it may be. Liberal white folks and the privilege afforded them does not in any way mean they know what’s best for others, especially people of color and other cultures.

Juneteenth allowed me to begin the honest self-examination that shed new light on old ideas. It freed me to acknowledge my own privilege and prejudices. Juneteenth corrected my vision and allowed me to love and serve others in a new, better way. It facilitated spiritual growth in ways I cannot put into words. It also freed me to make living amends for my well-intentioned failures by freeing me to be an ally for others and not having to have all the answers for them or myself.

Ultimately, it freed me to have deep, meaningful relationships and grow my community. That is the end result of true emancipation – a broad all-encompassing community that serves and supports one another. That’s something for everyone to celebrate and something we need now more than ever…

To learn more about Juneteenth, Ms. Opal Lee, Opal’s Walk to DC, Unity Unlimited Inc., and making Juneteenth a National Holiday please go to:

www.opalswalk2dc.com

www.unityunlimited.org

www.juneteenthftw.com

www.juneteenth.com