“Party with a purpose” is a phrase that fits well with most Black holidays and occasions. Historically, Juneteenth has been no different. 

Last year, that joy was underscored for me by the Band of Brothers, an organization in Augusta, Georgia, that hosts an annual Juneteenth event.

Why We Wrote This

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The elevation of Juneteenth to federal holiday has brought fresh opportunities to educate Americans about Black history. Our columnist hopes that joy and community remain central to the holiday.

The group doesn’t eschew the educational component of the holiday. There’s a perennial presentation from a prominent historian, as well as African drum performances. After that? “We want to party and have a good time with our kinfolk,” says Travis “Godbrotha” Wright, a Band of Brothers member. 

The celebratory nature of the holiday is something that should not be taken for granted. Rest and relaxation might not be revolutionary, but they are essential to peace and prosperity.

One figure who has embodied that spirit is Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” Her now iconic 1,400-mile walk in 2016 from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., helped secure federal recognition of the holiday. That journey has since inspired an annual community Walk for Freedom.

I hope these communal traditions endure, not just among grandmothers in Texas or brothers in Georgia, but for all who choose to celebrate Black freedom.

“Party with a purpose” is a phrase that fits well with most Black holidays and occasions. Historically, Juneteenth has been no different. Yet something curious has happened since the day became a federal holiday in the United States in 2021. This jubilant celebration of African American independence has somehow become less fun.

A controversy last June underscored this dynamic. A series of multiracial banners appeared throughout downtown Greenville, South Carolina, which raised angst among certain community members because of the Black origins of Juneteenth. What was lost in the conversation went beyond a sense of community – there was also a less celebratory mood.

That joy was restored for me, in part, by the Band of Brothers, an organization in Augusta, Georgia, that has hosted an annual Juneteenth event for several years. As I rode through downtown last June, past the James Brown statue, I was struck by the beautiful people filling the streets. It reminded me of perhaps Mr. Brown’s most affirming opus – “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).”

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

The elevation of Juneteenth to federal holiday has brought fresh opportunities to educate Americans about Black history. Our columnist hopes that joy and community remain central to the holiday.

Travis “Godbrotha” Wright, a Band of Brothers member, understands the delicate balance between an occasion that promotes history and a good time.

“It’s important for us to not just observe Juneteenth, but also to celebrate it in the same fashion as, say, the Fourth of July,” Mr. Wright says in a phone interview. “Some people feel it should be Afrocentric and educational, but the other part feels like you don’t do that at a Fourth of July event.”

Jonathan Ernst/Sipa USA/Reuters

President Joe Biden presents civil rights leader Opal Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 3, 2024.

The group doesn’t eschew the educational component of the holiday. There’s a perennial presentation from Wayne O’Bryant, a prominent historian, as well as African drum performances. After that? “We want to party and have a good time with our kinfolk,” Mr. Wright says.

The Brothers organized in 2017 with the intent of celebrating the holiday. The group was formed among civic-minded and entrepreneurial members, and has since grown into an organization that serves the community year-round.

“It may be a parent who’s having an issue with their child, or a teacher who has an opportunity for speakers to come into their school,” says Mr. Wright. “Because we have 20 members with varying work schedules, there’s always someone who can be pulled and show up for [the community].”

According to Mr. Wright, the annual event in Augusta is one of Georgia’s largest Juneteenth celebrations, second only to one in Columbus. The Brothers have been able to secure well-known acts in the past, including the hip-hop group Goodie Mob. Festivities are as integral to the holiday as any effort to teach the history of Black liberation from chattel slavery. Indeed, some of the first Juneteenth celebrations went by another name, Jubilee Day.

Honoring the celebratory nature of the holiday is something that should not be taken for granted. Rest and relaxation might not be revolutionary, but they are essential to peace and prosperity.

Because Juneteenth was largely resurrected on a nationwide basis during the Black Lives Matter movement, there will always be a select group of the populace that associates the holiday with that social justice uprising. That might be seen as a negative to some, but from my viewpoint, it acknowledges the hard-fought history of pro-Black legislation and the fight for liberation in this country.

Even with that conflict in mind, there is still room to dance, and to dream. 

One figure who has embodied that spirit is Opal Lee, a Texas teacher, humanitarian, and activist who is known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” In May, President Joe Biden awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her now iconic 1,400-mile walk in 2016 from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., helped secure federal recognition of Juneteenth. That journey was both purposeful and joyful, a fun endeavor that inspired an annual community Walk for Freedom. 

I hope these communal traditions endure, not just among grandmothers in Texas or brothers in Georgia, but for all who choose to celebrate Black freedom.