Juneteenth: Behold, Now is a Very Acceptable Time

Juneteenth: Behold, Now is a Very Acceptable Time


I spent my first year out of graduate school working in the South Bronx. With my light skin and racially ambiguous features, my presence seemed oddly in place in the predominantly Puerto Rican community. I had spent a lifetime wondering if I really was a person of color. Suddenly surrounded by people who looked like me, I started wondering how I ever thought I might be white.

I was a case manager in a housing program for people struggling with substance use and mental health issues; I witnessed deep suffering, shame, and abandonment there. In the winter of that year, the program came under the leadership of two white managers overseeing the rest of us—Black and brown frontline staff, and Black and brown clients. As a staff person, I started experiencing my own form of horror, encountering the racism threaded through my interactions with management. My expertise was belittled, my clothing and body policed, my concerns dismissed as unreal or exaggerated; we were made to defer to arbitrary rules enforced by petty punishments. Clients had it far worse, as they were treated by management with patronization and contempt.

Juneteenth: Behold, Now is a Very Acceptable Time

At some point, I somehow got involved with organizing a group of clients to perform a little talent show for the housing program. I was floored to discover the quiet wallflower client had an incredible singing voice, the client known for getting into fights was a talented dancer, and that client always sulking really brightened up given the opportunity to tell some jokes.

In my memory, the talent show ended up happening the same day Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video came out—perhaps because they are both tales of power from a people living in a world not made for them to survive. “Formation” is filmed in New Orleans, a city that will soon be underwater and yet brims with the joy of Black women celebrating their traditions, their bodies, their hair, their style, their freedom. This band of clients in the South Bronx were sick, discarded, maligned – and they were talented. We pulled the talent show together and performed in the recreation room in the basement. Every seat was filled with other clients or family members and friends, and each act was met with riotous cheers and applause. 

In the midst of despair, there it was—laughter, playfulness, and unbridled delight. 

In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things. His words are full of suffering, and full of celebration too.

Today is Juneteenth. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We continue to shape the world to reflect the truth that God made us free and wants us to be free. We celebrate the freedom attained, the freedom yet to come, and the freedom of now. We are free. Despite poverty, despite racism, despite political oppression, despite all that eats at us from within and without—rejoice, for the Kingdom of God begins here and now, and we are free, we are free, we are free.

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