Step outside the Black History Canon This Juneteenth

Our history books haven't shared the full narrative when it comes to Black History. Here are a few things you should learn about this Juneteenth.

By Utieyin Ekwejunor-Etchie

These past few weeks have made it painfully obvious that racism is still alive and well in America. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd may have sparked a national movement, but the continued deaths of men and women at the hands of the police mark the incredible urgency of this fight.  

These resounding tragedies have forced people around the world to open their eyes to the plight of Black people in this country and beyond. While the universal call-to-action from individuals and corporations regarding #BlackLivesMatter seems new, it’s important to recognize that Black Americans have been fighting for justice since this country’s inception.

Still, this global awakening is well-timed as it places a renewed significance on Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in its most recognizable form—although we know that corollaries to slavery continue to exist today. Despite the fact that President Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when approximately 250,000 enslaved people finally learned they had been freed. That means nearly a quarter of a million men and women continued to suffer for 2.5 years, even though slavery was officially outlawed in formerly Confederate states in 1863. For myself and so many others, Juneteenth symbolizes the actual day of Independence for all people in America. 

While we continue to work toward Black liberation, it is also necessary to stop and revel in the richness of Black history and the resilience of Black Americans. It is for this reason, we choose to celebrate and elevate Black Joy and Black Excellence as a form of resistance, especially on Juneteenth. If you want to learn of ways you can support this effort, keep reading.

Celebrate Black History in its Totality On Juneteenth and Every Day

There are many ways to celebrate Juneteenth: you can gather in a park with friends to celebrate your own Blackness, celebrate major accomplishments and societal contributions made by Black people, or reflect on Black history through the works of prominent Black thinkers—leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and President Barack Obama. 

My favorite way to acknowledge Juneteenth is by celebrating Black history in its totality. To me, this means learning about the people and events that are omitted from school curricula. I’ve studied civil rights activist Audre Lorde, who describes herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and American author bell hooks, whose work examines the varied perceptions of Black women. I’ve also looked into events like the Tulsa Massacre, one of the worst race massacres in history. 

There are many creatives doing the work of sharing Black stories that are often overlooked and untold. This list includes familiar names like Oscar-winning Ava DuVernay—the director of 13th and When They See Us—but it also includes creators you may not be familiar with yet, like De’Von Truvel, creator of Black Wall Street the Board Game (Black Wall Street). This Juneteenth, I implore you to step outside the Black history canon and delve into the joys of Black history that are missing from our history books. I suggest starting with Black Wall Street. 

Black Wall Street is an interactive game that tells the story of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, one of the most affluent African-American communities in the U.S. The 35-square block area located in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma paved the way for Black communities and businesses everywhere to thrive. It is important to look at the history of Black Wall Street to understand its economic legacy. 

Tulsa’s Black Wall Street was the epitome of the word self-sustaining. It had over 300 Black-owned businesses, including Williams Dreamland Theatre, Booker T. Washington High School, Uncle Steve’s BBQ, and Madam CJ Walker Beauty Salon. More than that, the community marked an instance of wealth redistribution—moving wealth and resources from its strong middle and upper classes to help members of their community start business ventures. Truvel’s game builds on this legacy of Black Excellence. It even includes some of the very businesses that lined Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. 

The affluence and education seen in Greenwood’s Black community were remarkable. In a JSTOR Daily article, Kimberly Fain explained that every dollar spent in Greenwood circulated within the community 36-100 times, almost an entire year, before leaving. Today, a dollar spent in a Black community stays there for less than 24 hours and non-Black dollars rarely find their way to the community. In playing what looks like just a simple and fun board game, you can uncover how Black Americans built one of the most successful economic systems, as well as learn about financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

Celebrating Juneteenth By Playing Black Wall Street The Board Game

Black Wall Street aims to take the historical context of Northern Tulsa and teach its ideals of entrepreneurship through a family fun board game. For Truvel, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street is an iconic historical community in Black history, yet its legacy of excellence is not taught. Truvel had to wait until he took an African American history course in college to learn about Black Wall Street. Even then, the class focused on the racial and economic tensions that brought the community to the ground. It only touched on the ingenuity of Greenwood’s entrepreneurs tangentially. 

This omission is the core sentiment of Truvel’s game. He wants to transform the way young people are taught Black history. He wants to encourage children to celebrate Black success by living within it, even just for a game. This celebration is a radical act. It allows Black children to see themselves—and their history—included in narratives of economic empowerment and success. The absence of jail and the presence of cultural institutions like public libraries serve only to strengthen Truvel’s argument. Truvel’s players live and find success in a world without the carceral system. By allowing his players to enter this world of Black excellence and void of systems that trap Black communities at the bottom of the economic bracket, Truvel encourages players to envision the return of a modern-day Black Wall Street.


Teaching Financial Literacy and Black History with a Board Game

Financial literacy is a skill often overlooked in school curricula. That means the responsibility of teaching young people how to save, budget, and work within financial institutions often sits with their parents. This responsibility is incredibly important as a recent study indicates that financial wellness in Black communities lags behind national averages. 

Although it is not an immediate solution, increased financial literacy leads to improved financial outcomes and capabilities. Individuals with higher financial literacy tend to save for retirement, have non-retirement savings, and be better in managing their debt. Truvel understands that in order to build generational wealth in the Black community we need to first increase financial understanding and a sense of financial responsibility within the community. To supplement his game, Truvel has also created a Play Black Wall Street Academy with curricula to help teach and reinforce financial skills. 

Kicking your Juneteenth celebrations off with Black Wall Street is a great way to not only educate yourself about the most successful Black community in American history but also a great opportunity to develop your financial and entrepreneurial skills. When we say Black Lives Matter, we do not mean in death. We mean the quality of life for Black people matters. We mean Black livelihoods matter. 

So as we plan for our day of light-hearted celebration, we must also keep in mind that the freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution have not all been awarded to Black people, including financial freedom. As we celebrate Black success and Black Joy, we must also protect Black life and Black futures. We must continue to address the bias and discrimination we encounter and advocate for the freedoms we have yet to gain in order to uplift the Black community, both as members of the community and as allies. In order to do so, we must continue to step outside our comfort zone to uncover the truth about American history and equip the next generation with the knowledge to continue the resistance. 

To learn more about Black Wall Street and to play Black Wall Street The Board Game with your family and friends, click here. Also, use the XQ promo code XQSTANDS to get 19% off your game! The promo code will only last for four days so make sure you visit the site now!

Celebrate Black History in its totality this Juneteenth. Join discussions on our forum about economic liberation and the continued fight for racial justice in America. Do you have ideas about how we can support Black-owned businesses this Juneteenth? Let us know on the Rethink Together Forum.