Artist Reginald Adams, standing in front of the painting, is joined by members of United Way of Greater Houston, Volunteer Houston and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.
Artist Reginald Adams, standing in front of the painting, is joined by members of United Way of Greater Houston, Volunteer Houston and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. Credit: Jimmie Aggison

According to the words and actions of Blacks in Houston and beyond, Juneteenth 2023 isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

Example number one: the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and Volunteer Houston hosted the unveiling of their four Juneteenth-themed murals on June 21.

Held at the United Way of Greater Houston (50 Waugh Dr., Houston, TX 77007), the Public Art Project Juneteenth Mural Dedication was done in conjunction with famed local artist and “Absolute Equality” founder Reginald Adams. According to a statement by Interfaith Ministries, the effort launched a “city-wide public art project recruiting 150 volunteers to paint four Juneteenth-themed murals. Each piece is housed in a partnering service organization’s building creating spaces for reflection while amplifying the voices and experiences of Black Americans and their journey toward freedom.”

“United Way of Greater Houston is honored to be the home of this powerful work of art celebrating Juneteenth and its importance in the struggle for freedom and equality,” said Amanda McMillian, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston. “We are committed to the pursuit of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and are excited to share such a beautiful and lasting reminder of the importance of persisting in that mission with all who pass through our doors.”

In other words, this Juneteenth work took place well before June 19, 2023, was introduced after that date, and will have lasting ramifications for many future Juneteenths to come.

This effort was funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.

“Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to pause, reflect, and disrupt, ultimately creating a space for change,” said Andréa R. Shiloh, vice president of volunteerism and civic service with Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. “We are especially proud of the Public Art Project because it brought people together to create a piece that will live and breathe the themes of Juneteenth inspiring the ongoing pursuit of social justice for generations to come.”

Texas Democratic Party Vice Chair Shay Wyrick Cathey and Treasurer Odus Evbagharu released a joint statement on Juneteenth being a celebration of more than the 1865 event, emphasizing that Juneteenth “is about celebrating Black joy and Black liberation in Texas and across America. It’s about celebrating the remarkable achievements and cultural and economic contributions of Black Americans, despite the constant adversity we must still overcome on a daily basis.”

Their joint statement went on to focus on the “Juneteenth work that lies ahead.

“Juneteenth is also about recognizing how much work our country still has to do to achieve full equality and justice for Black people. Black Americans are still disproportionately incarcerated, disproportionately subjected to over-policing and police brutality, disproportionately subject to fatal disparities in access to quality preventative and treatment healthcare and remain the victims of acts of racism every day — from verbal microaggressions to outright violence. Here in Texas, Black Texans are still the subjects of an incessant Republican barrage on their right to vote — and are disproportionately impacted by Texas Republicans’ brutal, draconian abortion ban.”

Cathey and Evbagharu were not alone in speaking to Juneteenth extending beyond a day, and becoming a movement.

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Juneteenth was not only for acknowledging and reflecting upon the “horrific legacy of slavery while honoring those enslaved people who fought for freedom,” but a day to “renew our vows to live freely and to fight the forces that seek to dismantle our hard-fought wins.”

Juneteenth books
Juneteenth books Credit: Jimmie Aggison

“The fight for liberation did not end on June 19, 1865. Nor did it end with the passages of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act nearly a century later. Although the battleground looks different in 2023, do not be deceived. Our constitutional rights are once again under attack, tucked deep inside a trojan horse of ‘states’ rights’ and ‘voter integrity,’” said Ellis.

Hammering home the point of the importance of a Juneteenth movement, Ellis described GOP outcomes from the most recent state legislative session—approving two voting bills that target elections, eliminating Harris County’s chief election official and giving oversight of those elections to a partisan secretary of state—as “a series of blatant power grabs” that was “not just a nod to Jim Crow, [but] a tribute” to the blatantly racist practice.

In what read like a call to action, Ellis recalled the words of the late civil rights icon John Lewis who said, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

Juneteenth 2023 might well have marked the moment when the day of commemoration truly expanded to an ongoing movement.

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...