Ryann Dawson recites her essay for the Jubilee SPEAKS! Oratorical Essay Competition. | Screenshot 

Thursday, July 4, 2024 || OPINION || michael@wearejohnwilk.com 

Broadview sisters Maya and Ryann Dawson were among the winners of the inaugural Jubilee SPEAKS! Oratorical Essay Competition, held last month on Juneteenth at the 19th Century Club in Oak Park. Maya attends Lindop Elementary School in Broadview, while Ryann attends Fenwick High School in Oak Park. 

Other winners included Oak Parker Adeyemi Griffin Peyton Worsham, of River Forest. Juanta Griffin, an Oak Park Community Relations commissioner and founder of Ase Productions, organized the event. 

Below are the sisters’ entries. 

What Juneteenth Means to Me 

By Maya Dawson

I was on the couch watching TV, and bored. My mother walked in and told me, “Juneteenth is coming up, I want you to talk about it”. I didn’t want to, so I said no because I didn’t care about Juneteenth at the time. Then, my mother said, “Do you know how important Juneteenth is?”

I said, “I don’t care, I’m bored”. 

My mother said, “Juneteenth is the reason you can even be able to say you’re bored.” Before the first Juneteenth, our ancestors were enslaved. They had to be tortured so you could say you’re bored. They had to be taken from their loved ones so you can say you’re bored. Not only that, but they had to attempt escaping so you could say you’re bored. Your ancestors had to do tireless work no matter how cold or how hot it was, so you could say you’re bored. Sometimes, they died so you could say you’re bored.”

At that moment, I realized the importance of Juneteenth. Juneteenth means to celebrate the fact that black people aren’t enslaved. Juneteenth means to try to be grateful for the fact, we, Black people, don’t have to tirelessly work when we’re about to burn, or freeze. Juneteenth especially means, to be grateful for the fact you can say “I’m bored”. So I want to thank all of my ancestors that survived and tried to escape so I can lay on my couch, watch television and be bored.

Maya Josephine Dawson is entering seventh grade at Lindop Elementary School. She enjoys indie films and wants to create indie films and video games so she can express herself freely. Maya lives in Broadview, Illinois, with her parents, ShaRhonda and Brian Dawson, and her big sister, Ryann Michelle Dawson.

When Do Black Kids Get Independence? 

By Ryann Dawson

The Fourth of July is a day synonymous with independence, with freedom. A day that sparks fireworks in our mind and in the skies. A day off of work, a day for barbecue smoke smiles and water balloon soaked shorts. A day stolen land was given a new name. And everyone’s free?

Blaring cop sirens replace the boom of the fireworks and in a moment worlds shatter under a smoke filled sky. Calls are made to incarcerated family, locked up over a drug now legal. They long to taste freedom. And as another black boy learning his times tables is added to the morgue, a little girl, on the other side of town, walking a goldendoodle, looks up at the same sky and whispers a silent wish to stay in the land of the free. But when will black children be free? Free to bask in the same sun as their neighbors, free to run and sing and scream, to finally be a kid to make dumb mistakes that won’t break their future. 

Since our shackled down ancestors came to America, salt in their tongues and shackles where gold and diamonds should’ve been. We’ve been dying to try to attain freedom. And while white folks’ focus on tax loopholes and write-offs, on buying houses and getting jobs right out of high school. Black folks have been begging and dying to vote, to live, and to learn. And since Frederick Douglass wrote “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” and white folks patted his coily head and called him a good negro, and pronounced him articulate. The same way white folks do to me and every other black kid who’s ever “talked right”. Then smile at the correct use of the grammar system used to oppress us and him. Black folks have begged to benefit from the legal document that classified them as a fraction of a person, as property. Still, every year we pop fireworks, fly the flag that used to hang from trees next to our strung up bodies, and pretend to be proud to be standing on top of a country built on top of a mass genocide. We pretend the red in our flag doesn’t represent the blood of indigenous Americans that run underneath all of our cities.

 Black children have been subjected to the ugly rear end of this so-called land of the free since 1619. From alligator bait to thugs, from lynchings to shootings, from the hyper-sexualization of our young black girls to, the hyper-sexualization of our young black girls in the media and the integrated school system. The aestheticization of the revolutions we’ve organized. For a white woman to sit in front of protests and take selfies and use hashtags to claim to be “woke” while wearing a diamond ring around her finger that came from the blood of an African child. For her to go home, and teach her little daughter with the goldendoodle to cross the street and call the police when she sees a little black boy in a hoodie holding skittles walking back to his rightful home across the street from theirs. And she’ll go and tell her son who will grow up to be a police officer to identify a threat in a four-year-old boy holding a water gun squealing in delight at a park, in a man going on a run, and in a group of black teens kicking it walking down the street, laughing loud, and singing proud, enjoying a little taste of freedom. All for it to come crumbling down with two bullets in the skull of one of the boys. That night, that boys’ mom will cry to the God taught to her from her enslavers and beg, “When will our children be free?”

For these reasons, when photos of fireworks and sparklers flood my explore and for you page every Fourth of July. All I can do is grit my teeth and click not interested, the same way I’m not interested in the false form of freedom American politicians keep dangling at my people. You think by making Juneteenth a national holiday, we’ll forget what you did to gain yours? You think by acknowledging the sin of your founding fathers, we’ll forget what you did to ours? Not only that, but you think by letting a few black folks line dance in the White House we’ll forget that the blood, sweat, and tears, built every damn institution in this country. Then justify you in the right to spray us with tear gas when we tried to burn this whole place to the ground to free the soul of my great-great-grandmother, whose spirit was caught in the window of your “vintage rustic barn” home. Which everyone knows is just a code word for a plantation home in which she was violated every night. 

When brilliant black children stuck in poverty use the brain molded by kings and queens in Africa to find creative ways to survive, instead of getting into an Ivy League, populated by significantly less intelligent white kids who got on off legacy, then you can tell me black children are free. When black children don’t have to bite their tongues and avert their eyes when talking about racism and slavery in class in order to get a letter of recommendation to a college that they will ultimately hate-crimed at, then you can tell me black kids are free. When young black girls’ bodies aren’t fetishized in the media, aren’t desired at the age of nine, then you can tell me black kids are free. When young black boys aren’t killed in cold blood, by a gun and a uniform multiple times, every day, all across the country, then you can tell me black kids are free. And when I publish this article, and I’m called a revolutionary and an activist instead of articulate, and even closer to getting into a white school that would love to have someone as polite as I am, then you can tell me black kids are free. When our accomplishments aren’t reduced down to a good reflection of the people trying so hard to kill me, then, and only then, can you tell me black kids are free. 

Ryann Michelle Dawson is a rising junior at Fenwick High School. She enjoys poetry, music, and reading and is interested in studying international policy and journalism. Ryann lives in Broadview, Illinois, with her parents, ShaRhonda and Brian Dawson, and her little sister, Maya Josephine Dawson.