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What is the significance of Juneteenth becoming a national holiday? How should we celebrate Juneteenth? What are the links between faith and freedom? Listen in to pastor, content creator, and scholar Rasool Berry share the important historical and spiritual contexts of Juneteenth, where on June 19, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced in Galveston, Texas freeing Black African Americans who were enslaved. This Jubilee Day carried weighty implications for faith and society then and continues to today. Dr. Will Gravely hosts this incredible conversation for the Be the Bridge community that you do not want to miss.
Mentioned in the Episode:
Become a Recurring Partner of Be the Bridge: BeTheBridge.com/Give
Shop the Be the Bridge Store: Shop.BeTheBridge.com
Rasool Berry: rasoolberry.com/
Where Ya From? Podcast
Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom Documentary: youtube.com/watch?v=YmjuDxKTzzg&t=0s
Resources Mentioned: Juneteenth.ExperienceVoices.org
Our Daily Bread Ministries
Our Daily Bread Voices Collection
Our Daily Bread Juneteenth Devotional
Jude 3 Project
Ms. Opal Lee
Why is Juneteenth Important? Jude 3 Project video with Rasool Berry
Connect with Will:
Dr. Will Gravely: instagram.com/dr.willgravely/
Connect with Be the Bridge:
Connect with Latasha Morrison:
Host & Executive Producer: Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer: Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor & Music By: Travon Potts
Transcriber: Sarah Connatser
Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.
Full Transcript is Below:
Full Transcript Below:
Audio Clip 0:00
A landmark moment in American history. President Biden, just back from the Geneva Summit with Vladimir Putin, about to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 0:15[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:26[intro] …but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit that subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.
Dr. Will Gravely 1:03
Well Be the Bridge family, thank you so much for tuning into this episode. I’m Dr. Will Gravely. I have the honor and privilege of serving as a board member for Be the Bridge and also in our amazing founder’s stead for this episode. We are celebrating six years. Can you believe it? This is our six year anniversary. And I am joined in this incredible episode by an incredible, incredible leader. We have none other than Rasool Berry. Rasool Berry is teaching pastor of The Bridge Church in Brooklyn, NYC. He’s also a renowned writer, creative, and scholar as well. So you will hear so much more from him. But this is in fact our Juneteenth episode. And so what better way to jump in than to just get maybe an overview from you, Rasool. What is Juneteeth? And why is it significant, not only to Black Americans, but to Americans as a whole?
Rasool Berry 2:03
Yes, so thanks for having me, Dr. Will. It’s great to be here. And I am such a admirer of Be the Bridge and have been for years. I think it’s…an obviously even pastoring at a church called Bridge, we have that connection. Like that vision is prophetic for what people need. We need to make connections, not just between each other, but also with the divine and recognizing that sometimes there’s a gap, there’s a chasm to have to be crossed. And fortunately, we serve a bridge building God who causes us to be bridge builders ourselves. And so it’s really a privilege for me to be here. And I think that that is actually part of why I think Juneteenth is an important conversation. I think that it is an intrinsic opportunity to build bridges between the past and the present. Growing up in Philly, I didn’t know much about Juneteenth. Other than, I had a classmate whose middle name was Galveston. And I was like, “Why is your middle name Galveston?” And he was like, “Well, yeah, it was out in Texas, like, they didn’t know about the Emancipation Proclamation for like two and a half years.” And I was like, “What?! That’s crazy.” And that was about all I knew about that moment. It was a blip, and I kept it moving. Because our stories are very different depending on where you are, you know, in the country. Being from Philly, which, you know, was really the bedrock of the abolitionist movement with the Quakers, William Penn, others, and became the hub of a lot of the, you know, Free African Societies, Richard Allen, all of that. That’s a different story than the story in Texas. And so, you know, what we think of Juneteenth now though, as I kind of got the chance to listen and learn about the story, even before it became a newly added federal holiday last June, June 17, 2021. It was celebrated throughout, especially Texas and those who spread throughout from Texas and other places, as the day that in 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation decreed the emancipation of enslaved people in Confederate states. That’s another layer to this, that people don’t understand, that it would take the 13th Amendment, which was ratified in 1866, to end slavery in America, you know, as a practice. But the Emancipation Proclamation as a wartime document was issued to announce emancipation of those who were enslaved in Confederate states. Now, as you can imagine, it wasn’t like the Confederacy who was at war with the Union heard this decree and said, “Oh, okay, because the president that we don’t recognize says that we should let these slaves go, then that’s what we’re doing.” No. In fact the opposite happened. And this is something that I discovered later, we can get into. That this is not just Texas’ story, because essentially, many slave holding people, enslavers, moved and migrated from other parts of the country to come to Texas because they saw it as so far away from…it was the furthest, pretty much as west you could get from the Union, that they could keep their slaves. And they would bring the people that they had enslaved with them. And so in June 19, 1865, a battalion of Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, which at that point was the largest city in Texas. It’s an island. And it was, you know, the ports were very important there. It had a very large, natural harbor. Still does. They arrived there to announce freedom and basically, the military occupation, so to speak, of the Union to end the war in Texas. Because they were still fighting even two months before, or a month before, Juneteenth had happened. And so Juneteenth celebrates really the day that we commemorate freedom coming to Texas, and even that’s a little bit more of a complicated story. But just to make it simple. And it’s become symbolically a time where all of us have looked back and say, “You know what, we don’t really have a moment in the calendar that we celebrate the end of this horrific institution that has shaped so much of the American experience and his continued.” And so I think it’s a bridge to the past, but also a lot of the themes that emerged from Juneteenth give us a bridge to the present, and looking at some of the contemporary relevancy of the struggle for freedom that continues on.
Dr. Will Gravely 6:49
Wow, that’s an incredible history that you just gave us and even how significant geography has been in the unveiling of that story, and even those events taking place. Right? And so, you brought up an interesting point where slaveholding people would travel to Texas, knowing that it was almost this isolated enclave where this institution could remain. It’s very, very significant. So here we have, again, you’re giving us such great information, this peculiar timeline. Right? So we have the Emancipation Proclamation, which is issued or given on January 1st. Is that correct? 1865?
Rasool Berry 7:29
That’s when it came into effect. It was announced months before that. But yeah, it came into effect January 1, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War. Right? And it was, you know, and it’s a wartime document, there’s some strategy behind why Abraham Lincoln decides to put it out at that point. But yeah, so it becomes into effect January 1, 1863, and doesn’t actually take effect in Texas, until the troops arrive in 1865 in June.
Dr. Will Gravely 7:30
What a significant gap. And so can you explain to us a bit, maybe, literally, historically, what took so long, do you think, for the information to travel to Galveston? So you’re right, and thank you for the correction there. January 1, 1863, it’s made public. It’s sort of rendered in a preliminary fashion of September of the prior year, then it doesn’t really land, this news isn’t delivered until June 19, 1865. What do you think took so long then for the news to travel, and for them to actually receive it and implement it? And then secondly, which is a little more metaphorical or symbolic, for us, what took so long do you think for us to even know about the significant day and for it to become an official national holiday? Just what are your thoughts on that?
Rasool Berry 8:51
Yeah. And I think the two of those questions are actually very related. And that’s why I think Juneteenth serves as an important bridge from the past to the present. Because there’s a great misnomer that I discovered when I leaned into this documentary and traveled to Galveston, went to Houston, went to Dallas, and talked to those who were descendants of those who were emancipated on Juneteenth as well as just historians in Texas and others. And one of the great misnomers is that, you know, we kind of imagined the mid 1800s, it takes a long time, there’s people on horseback, that people just didn’t know. And I had this picture, it was like, “Hey y’all, you’re free!” And all the people in Texas were like, “Wow, really? I didn’t know that.” That’s not what happened. What actually happened was, like I said, and we have documentary evidence that shows they talked about in the newspapers. Texans scorned and mocked the Emancipation Proclamation as something that was ridiculous. Because remember, they’re at war with the very president who announces this. So it’s like, “This is ridiculous. This is…” You know, they called it the universal proclamation in a jeering way, talking about look, he’s talking about universally ending slavery. And so, we know that whites and wealthy whites knew about the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. They just didn’t care. You know, I mean, they were fighting a war for the right to protect and keep their slaves. And this wasn’t the first war, they had actually fought against Mexico. Also over the right to, you know, keep slaves. And so this was just another opportunity for them to dig in. Now, there is question about how much enslaved people knew. I mean, you know, in general, you can best believe that they weren’t gathering everybody to announce, “Hey, look at this.” But, you know, people hear things all the time as they’re over dinner, probably getting mad and arguing and whatnot. And so, there was a sense of which some people knew, some people didn’t know, you know, who were further out removed in terms of African descent people who were enslaved. But the question really wasn’t what they knew, because they couldn’t free themselves. The key moment why it took two and a half years to enforce is because it’s still in the middle of the war. And it’s not until the troops have critical mass, the Union has critical mass to enforce emancipation in Texas, that it can actually come into effect. And so the delay in the struggle for freedom reveals that contrary to what many of us were taught, it wasn’t like the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and everybody just said, “Oh, you know, we was wrong. Let’s hit the reset button.” That it was a struggle to actually, there was one historian in Galveston, she said, “They didn’t come here to inform, they came here to enforce.” And it was this idea that they had to by force say, “This is it.” You know, “Enslaved people were free.” And so that really relates to why we did not hear about this, by and large, because that resistance to telling the story, the good news, of full emancipation, of full equality, of full freedom, is still a resistance that we have. And so the fight over history, you know, it was gone, that’s become front and center, you know. In 2021, we’re still arguing about the significance of 1619 and having debates to try to take it out of the curriculum and out of the classrooms, because people don’t want to deal with and confront the history and the significance of the history of slavery in our country. They would rather avoid it, and that has consequences for what it means for us to lean into this sense of absolute equality today. And, I think for the church in particular, it’s really important, because, you know, the Scriptures tell us where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, there is liberty. And that there’s this prophetic vision that, what I discovered that, many of the enslaved held on to of a holistic salvation that revealed itself in a deliverance that was body and soul, that also has to be reunified in a way that in many churches was separated in order to also try to separate the reality of physically putting people in bondage while trying to also advocate for their spiritual freedom.
Wow, what a significant picture. So you just gave us the theological perspective of full salvation. Right? Not just soul, but body included. And it even strikes this imagery of the country. You informed us that the 13th amendment was actually what eradicated slavery from the continental U.S., but the Emancipation Proclamation was written for the Confederate States.
Dr. Will Gravely 14:00
So there still wasn’t even this holistic salvation for the people until the 13th Amendment. And this is significant as well. Can you speak to just for a moment, the numbers of enslaved Africans that were in this region. Some scholars might say, this was no handful of people. Right? Some might say it was between 200,000 and 250,000. How significant is this? Just socially?
Rasool Berry 14:29
Great question. And it is hugely significant on a couple of fronts. And so one, you have to look at the economic engine. So at this point, when people think of Texas oftentimes now we think of cowboys and cattle. And that is a part of Texas that becomes more a part of its history later. Early on, it’s primarily agricultural in the eastern part of Texas, Houston. And it’s primarily plantations, these are sugar plantations and cotton plantations. And because as the soil got depleted in the eastern part of the United States because they overworked it by trying to just, you know, get all the cotton that they could, that farmers began to move further south and west, to find soil that they could then and they would bring the people that they had enslaved with them. And so one of the things I discovered in doing a documentary was like, man, that there’s so many people who’s that, who their story of being freed or through Juneteenth, started in Alabama, started in Virginia, started somewhere else, and because they were forcefully migrated to Texas that’s where it began. And so Galveston was the largest city in Texas at the time that the Union soldiers arrived. And it was because of the ports and their major, you know, economic engine, was cotton was sugar were the things from these plantations. And so this was why they were willing to fight so vigorously in order to maintain that profit engine, because it produced for them enormous wealth on the backs of these enslaved people who were in bondage, on the backs of the people that they were separating by their families. Now, that leads to the second part, which is, it’s not just important economically, where there was millions of dollars being generated on the backs of 1000s and 1000s of slaves. But there’s also the important psychological narrative of how they saw themselves. So Sam Houston and others who really, you know, looked upon as the founders of Texas, they were had given away tracts of land to entice slave owners to come and to occupy Texas so that they could, you know, grow the state. And a lot of times the story that people tell themselves to justify that kind of gross inequality is that these people deserved to be, “We’re doing them a favor by enslaving and putting them in bondage.” “God has given us the right to, not just the right the responsibility, to put them in bondage, because otherwise they will be savages and destroy themselves and each other. And so and now we get to evangelize them.” And so, these lies are firmly embraced in order to keep to justify what is happening. So think about what that means when that whole system becomes unraveled, when these troops come in by gunpoint, and now say, “You are forced to let these people go and to do what they want to do with their lives.” It’s an also a upending of the social order. Because now I have to think about people who have been taught in sermons and classrooms, and you know, economic and social encounters, that they’re less than, and now I have to somehow treat them like equals. Like what? And so that story is as revolutionary in this dynamic, and is wrought with meaning and possibility, as even the economic engine. And the two of those go hand in hand. And so Juneteenth offers us an opportunity to think about both the resistance to that resetting of the relationship but also the ongoing need for us to renew our minds about how we see each other as coequals, and that legacy of that story of white supremacy has still continued throughout time in 157 years since.
Dr. Will Gravely 18:49
That is so significant. So this institution of slavery had implications across every area of life. It wasn’t just socially, it was psychologically, even theologically. And so, as you so poetically stated, even from one of your historians in Texas, the Union soldiers did not come to inform, they came to enforce. Which gives us a picture of how central and paramount this institution was to the Confederate States. This is significant. And I wonder if you could speak to, just for a moment from from your experience and expertise, you talked to us historically about potentially what took so long for the information to travel, the systemic perspectives and widely held societal perspectives that resisted the Emancipation Proclamation in and of itself. But why even is this date? June 19th 1865, or the holiday that we now know as Juneteenth, why is it even still somewhat rarely understood or explained in the Black community? Can you just speak a little bit more to that? We talked about some of the regional dynamics of that, but we’d love to hear a little more.
Rasool Berry 20:03
Yeah, I mean, and again, I can’t wait to share with people this documentary that we did, because so much of what I’ve learned, I got from the sources of folks who have done incredible research. So shout out, you know, Sharon Gilens, DJ Cox, I mean so many people, that helped me to put these pieces together. Because, you know, it is really compelling to kind of understand a lot of the layers of it. And so one of the questions you asked, and you might have to circle back and ask me the other one if I forget, is like, why are we so late in kind of hearing about this? And what is even the story within the African American community of this holiday? And what is it’s significance? And, I think that a part of it is, I mean, if we have to be honest with ourselves and realize that the psychological scars, the spiritual scars of bondage has reflected itself since in ways in which we don’t even want to tell our own stories, and being embarrassed by some of those stories. And so there’s a tension there’s even a almost, it’s probably still an internal debate in Texas and other places, like, “Wait a minute, why would we celebrate being told late something?” Or you know what I mean, it’s kind of a tragic holiday, in some sense. Like, “Wait, we’re celebrating the fact that that freedom was delayed for two and a half years?” Like, that doesn’t seem like something that we should even celebrate that is, that seems like something that should make you mad or angry. And I think the reality is that in the complexities of life, that there is this sense of nuance, we can hold two truths together at the same time. Because think about it. On the one end, if you’re that person who’s enslaved on the shores of Galveston, and you hear and you see these Black troops, because most of the troops that came were colored troop battalions, come in. First of all, you’ve probably never seen that before. Black man holding guns in Texas? Like what? And then on top of that, they’re coming to emancipate you, to liberate you? Your first thought at that time isn’t, “Man, it was two and a half years.” Your thought is excitement. All of a sudden, now the possibilities, the prayers, that you, your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great, great have uttered have come into existence, have been realized in that moment. And we know from what happened it was a moment of jubilation, of celebration. They called it Jubilation Day from Jubilee day in the Old Testament. And so they’re making these connections and looking like God came through. It was real. And that’s something that is significant. And that’s why this day was continually remembered. I mean, imagine if you are 40 years old, and you have been in bondage for those 40 years. And then the 41st year comes around with that, and you’re free. That next year, you’re like, “yo, June 19th.” You know, it just kind of like hits different, it’s like that day is just going to be a day you never forget. And so it makes sense for those who want to celebrate that and honor that legacy and honor that step forward. But at the same time, it also is something to reflect and lament over. Because I just think about those two and a half years of what could have been, of people who were still brutalized, raped, just taken advantage of. Man, if that would have been executed immediately. That two and a half year fit can feel like a short amount of time, but just think about being in prison for two and a half years for something you didn’t do and how you can’t get that life back. Right? And so I think we need to make space for people to respond and to feel all sorts of different ways about that day. And that is part of the reason why I think there’s a complexity there in terms of, you know, how people can feel about it. But I don’t even think that’s the main reason because the reality is, if you go to Texas, you go to Louisiana, you go to other places, where they have these days, like these people still found out about it. Another challenge or unique reality is, as we talked about, with the state, so like Kentucky, Delaware, they were slaveholding states that were not, that did not join the Confederacy, that stayed in the Union. And so they have a different day. You know, a lot of states have a different day that they kind of acknowledge locally. And so there is a sense in which June, like honoring June 19th as the day that we acknowledged the end of slavery, you could say is a bit arbitrary. Because even in Texas, the troops, you know, they don’t get to Houston until the next day. Right? They have to still move. And so it’s you know, folk, but even though it can be arbitrary, is still significant to have a moment to reflect. And so regardless of if you were in New York or in that day is a whole different day when that was ratified and was a Free State for a lot longer, or if you were in Maine, or if you were in you know, maybe never was a slave state. Or if you’re in Texas, it’s a moment for all of us to reflect on this national moment. And look at both the horror and remember and to let lamentation involved with slavery, but also the joy of freedom and the promise of freedom. And what that means for us, both physically and spiritually, because the two are related. Because their prayers and their honoring of each other, of the Lord, of this sense of calling on their life they didn’t let go of kept them going. And so when I look at what happens in Buffalo, and this, you know, this hate crime and this shooting, or if I look at George Floyd, I can lean on the prayers of those who were at Juneteenth it to give me guidance and comfort and perspective, I can lean on their faith to inform my faith to say this too shall pass. Because that’s a story that’s continually being told.
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Dr. Will Gravely 27:34
That is powerful. So we shouldn’t see this as just the fulfillment of a government proclamation. This is in very many ways the fulfillment of God’s promise and God’s promises. What a powerful, powerful way to frame that for us. Now, you spoke about why this holiday in many ways has kind of flown under the radar. And I’m sure there were some resources out there. But what really pushed you and inspired you to create such a dynamic and well put together collection of resources around Juneteenth? Can you sort of tell us the story of not only the documentary, but the creative content, the music, just what inspired you to do it and what the process was like to create it and cultivate it?
Rasool Berry 28:19
Yeah, well, I think like a lot of us, you know, for me, looking at these moments over the last few years of resistance to oppression and continued injustices it causes you to lean into inspiration, lean into more of the stories of the past. And I think somewhere in that time, you know, kind of going to a Juneteenth celebration, learning more of the history, even before it became a national holiday, the biggest thing that I discovered was when I discovered that one of the names was Jubilee Day. And the Jubilee in Leviticus 25 is this 50 year festival moment of God hitting a spiritual heavenly reset button, anticipating the corruption of human societies and then setting them right by debts being covered, by those who were in bondage being free, by lands being restored. And the fact that these newly emancipated people connected their story to the biblical story blew me away. But then even further, to recognize that in Luke chapter four verse 18 when Jesus announces his ministry, gives his inaugural address, when he quotes Isaiah 61 it says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. For he’s anointed me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the captive, the year of the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor.” That’s a direct reference to the Jubilee. So Jesus is our Jubilee. Jesus is the fulfillment and the full embodiment of what it means to be physically, spiritually, holistically set free. And that story is so important. It inspired me. And the fact that they latched on to that story in 1865 was incredibly inspiring. And I wanted to share that with other people. And then in the midst of preparing these resources, it was like confirmation when, you know, the holiday becomes a national holiday out the blue. Nobody was looking for it, we weren’t expecting it. And then was bam, they just kind of put this announcement. And then it was like, man, now we have to help people think about what does this mean? Because anything, anytime there’s a new holiday on a calendar, it’s not immediate the ways in which we know how to celebrate it. And we’ve already seen some faux pas. Right? Some companies that look like, “Oh, that was a bad look. You making ice cream with the flavor.” And so there’s this way in which we know everything gets, you know, commercialized, and then you know, folks trying to take advantage. But what does it look like to have a FUBU celebration, for us by us, that is reflective of the initial impetus, heart, spirit, and that brings us into today? And so I was like, in order to understand that I gotta go back to where it started. I gotta go to Galveston, and kind of hear from the elders and listen and sit with them as they kind of informed the story. And what I got was way more than I could have imagined. And I’m like, what we get to do here with these resources is help people think about, in practice, what it means to celebrate emancipation and what it means to reflect on, not just celebrate it, but also to advocate for and to continue to fight for the full…because there’s a line in the General Granger’s General Order No. Three, when he reads, and not only does he say that, you know, “Those who are enslaved are emancipated,” but he says, “now have absolute equality between former slaves and slave masters.” And that phrase, “absolute equality” is prolific. It’s prophetic. But it’s also been not fully realized. The absolute equality. And so that’s the vision that we have to keep reflecting back on in order to move forward.
Dr. Will Gravely 32:03
Wow, that is so so significant. And we are forever grateful for the work that you and your colleagues have done to create these incredible resources for us. Like you said, Juneteenth was known as Jubilee Day, and to look at the biblical significance of that. And to fellow bridge builders that are listening and our wider audience, you know very well that we are deeply entrenched in the work of reconciliation, restoration, and justice. And Juneteenth is a pure picture of just that, not only in the physical space in society in this country, but also the spiritual significance of it, even as these enslaved Africans who happen to be in the United States, the not yet United States in fact, we’re praying for the Lord to truly deliver freedom. And even as you echoed these words of true and pure equality, that is clearly something that we can celebrate as we look to the past and the significance of this day, but it’s also something that we are still fighting for even now. As a pastor yourself, as a community leader…well, actually, before we shift into that, and your work on the ground, through Bridge Church. Would love to just hear what are the components of this incredible resource? You spoke about this documentary, but we understand that there’s music as well, there’s some creative literature, would love to just hear about all the different ways you express the screen information.
Rasool Berry 33:29
Yeah, so in addition to being the Teaching Pastor at The Bridge Church, I also serve as the Content Developer and Partnership Liaison with Our Daily Bread Ministries. And Our Daily Bread has created devotional materials for over 80 years. And there’s a little known, but becoming more known, Voices Collection within Our Daily Bread, which has for the last maybe five years created Black History Month devotionals, where we lean into, you know, folks who are experts in their field and reflect on the scriptures through the context of Black history. And so this year, we released our first ever Juneteenth devotional. It’s a 10 day devotional that has a scripture meditation, articles from folks like a Ekemini Uwan and Jonathan Chism and Barbranda Lumpkins Walls. And so it’s a great resource. And we have this available for folks to order online and actually get like order the emails to be sent directly to you. There’s a booklet that we probably will run out of by the time folks hear this. But don’t worry, next year we’ll still have some that you can order and have physical copies of. But for right now we have the reading plans that are available. In addition to the reading plan, there’s also a film. And the film is called Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom. And it follows my journey as I try to make sense of the history and legacy of slavery as a Black American Christian. You know, and all the ways and the complexities that those things play themselves out. We did this in partnership with the Jude 3 Project and Lisa Fields. And yes, so it’s a venture with them that we’re excited about. And we followed the story, not just in Galveston, but we go to Houston, which was the first Freedmen’s town was established there where, as the name suggests, this is like the next part of the story, which becomes Third Ward, Fourth Ward, Houston. And then we continue out the story and talking to people like Miss Opal Lee, who is the known as the grandmother of Juneteenth. She is 95 years old, feisty as ever, and began to march at 89 years old across the country to spread awareness about Juneteenth. And when it became a national holiday, the Biden administration flew her up to D.C. to honor her and to acknowledge her for bringing awareness. And now she’s a Nobel Prize nominee for peace.
We also talked to Lecrae and worked with him, and which, you know, also speaks to the musical part of it. We know that jubilation, Jubilee is celebration, and that’s a key part of the culture. And so we wanted to express this with brand new music. And I think first of its kind music. We put together artists Lecrae, Propaganda, Sho Baraka; we have gospel artists like Lucius Hoskins; we have the poet laureate of San Antonio, her name is Vocab, she appears in the film, wrote two original pieces. We have like tracks upon tracks upon tracks, like 10 to 12 that we’re coming out with that are celebrating these themes of freedom, specifically leaning into it and being inspired by Juneteenth and that story. And so that’s coming out. We also have a podcast on my podcast Where Ya From? where I interview a professor of history. I interview a historian and professor named Dr. Carey Latimore who teaches in San Antonio, and he also appears in the film. And so we want to just hit everybody up in every possible way. We want to say “Yo, have a barbecue, that’s the official Juneteenth celebration food with some red soda and, you know, get your red velvet cake and watch the film together, discuss this as a community.” And like you said, I mean, this is a bridge building activity, because General Gordon Granger was not Black. You know, he’s a white man and some of the troops that he brought along with them, even though most were Black, many weren’t. Mexico as a part of this story. People don’t know that Juneteenth was celebrated in Mexico, because there were communities that had escaped from Texas to Mexico. And when they family got free, they started celebrating. So there’s a dynamic there. And so there’s so many different ties. But there’s one thing I kind of always, the thing that hit me the most when I was filming is Ms. Opal Lee said, “None of us are free until we’re all free.” And so this idea of our inter mutuality. Right? The inescapable web of our intermutuality, as Dr. King said. That reality means that it means something for all of us, even if my particular ancestors were not freed on that day, somebody’s were. And that’s a key part of the American story, key part of the human story. And as a result of that, we should honor that, listen to it, lean into it, and learn about how the details, the messy details of freedom, evolving in 1865, announced in 1863, give us some insights about the ongoing resistance to freedom that we still see in 2022.
Dr. Will Gravely 39:03
Wow, this is so significant. It’s such a gift to all of us. And so to all of our listeners out there, please, please go get Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom. Go get the 10 day devotional. Go get the album. Go get all of it. This is an incredible resource for all of us, not only in this bridge building work, but all of us that are citizens of this country, all those who recognize the significance and the connection between faith and freedom. And as you stated so well, none of us are free until we’re all free. My final question as we take this last turn is as you’ve garnered this information, you’ve traveled, you’ve been immersed in this environment along your journey to discover more about the significance of Juneteenth, how has this work impacted your work at Bridge Church? How has this work impacted your work in ministry at large and these tenants of faith and freedom and how they seem to be intrinsically connected? What impact have you seen in your own life?
Rasool Berry 40:12
Oh, man, it’s a great question. And I think that I’ll be honest, even as I have worked to integrate my faith in practice, you know, my understanding of scripture and social justice, because there is a lot of spiritual training that I had in terms of how to read scripture, in terms of how to understand things that took place prior to this awareness of its necessary implications for how we live and how we think through things. Because there was time there, I still have to work to see the spiritual implications of social issues. Like that’s still something that doesn’t come as intrinsically as I’d like it to or that I think it appears in the scriptures. And so this helped me take another step in the journey of seeing the immediate spiritual implications. Just the mere fact that, you know, when I go to Houston, one of the first things that the emancipated do in Freedmen’s town is build a church. And I asked the question, why? Why would they build it? Why would that be the first thing you do when you get free and you was at a community? And it was like, one it’s because when they wanted to give thanks to God for freeing them. And two, they recognized that the literacy that the lead pastor in Houston, his name is Reverend Jack Yates, who there’s still a high school named after him in Houston that has existed as the legacy that he emphasized literacy and education, because someone taught him how to read the Bible when he was enslaved. And he wasn’t supposed to be learned how to read it. But he did. And it unlocked the truth of who he was, that was in a counter narrative to what the person who enslaved him said about who he was. And so he knew the potential and the possibilities that was involved with literacy. And so he started schools. He started to help people be landowners and bring their resources together. They literally pulled their resources together, under Reverend Jack Yates, to build, to buy Emancipation Park, which is still where Juneteenth celebrations are had 156 years later or so. And so, that has helped me to see that history, that social issues, that the idea of freedom is always connected to our faith. And that when we pray, “Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” That is a prayer that earth become more like heaven. And so Juneteenth is a moment where earth became more like heaven. And as a result of that, it is a moment that we ought to celebrate and recognize, because that sense of freedom, that sense of perspective, it allows for people to fully be who they were made to be in the image of God. And so that message, seeing it, hearing those stories, has helped me to continue to integrate that better in my preaching, in my teaching, in my work at the church and anywhere else God sends me.
Dr. Will Gravely 43:19
Wow, that is so so significant. And thank you for sharing that perspective. Even that push for education and literacy, and even the revelation, in some senses literally, that in that moment, earth became just a little more like heaven. That is incredible. Well, Rasool the way that we like to wrap up each episode is by asking this simple question that may have a complex response or maybe just a simple answer, but where do you find hope these days? Where do you find hope?
Rasool Berry 43:55
Right now, I find hope in the prayers and the faith of the ancestors who came before me, who saw through the lies of what they were told about God. There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of people still lying about God right now, and using that to justify all sorts of political and social ambitions. But I have hope by seeing people look past that and call the moment of their emancipation a jubilee, a day that they see true in the scriptures. And I’m like, man, when I start to lean into what they had to go through, not just up until June 19th, because as we talk about in the film, that in some ways, the struggle only became different after June 19th. And in some ways even more difficult. And when I look at that and how perseverance happened, I am given more vision and hope and perspective that we can make this happen continually, that this is the story that God is continually telling in us and through us. And as a result of that, I can keep going. I got faith to run on. And now I got some tracks to listen to as I go to run on it. And I got a film that I can share people that tell them the story of the fact that this hope has continued. And so you can find it at Juneteenth.ExperienceVoices.org. Juneteenth.ExperienceVoices.org. And that’s how you can find all of it. Everything will be there. And we’re excited. And thank you so much for having me and allowing me to be part of this conversation.
Dr. Will Gravely 45:34
Rasool, it is our absolute pleasure. And you actually give us hope as well and your incredible work, not only surrounding Juneteenth, but also your work in ministry on the ground and throughout communities across this country. And so, we are grateful for that. Once again, can you please give the link where we can get this incredible resource Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom?
Rasool Berry 45:56
Yes. So Juneteenth.ExperienceVoices.org. Voices is the name of the collection that we put out a lot of our resources on. You can sign up for our email newsletter. The film becomes available June 3rd. And we ask, encourage everybody to watch it. You know, download, buy the music. Have the whole experience and be inspired by the story.
Dr. Will Gravely 46:23
Well Be the Bridge family. You heard it. Juneteenth.ExperienceVoices.org. Incredible leader, pastor, content creator, scholar, Rasool Berry. We are so grateful. And for all of you tuning in, please go check out this incredible resource and find a way even in your bridge building work to celebrate this incredible day that served as a bridge between past, present, and future. I’m your host Dr. Will Gravely, honored to serve as a board member of Be the Bridge and sitting in the stead of our incredible founder and leader Latasha Morrison. We love you all and until next time.
Tandria Potts 47:02
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Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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