My first time celebrating Juneteenth was with Mos Def
Learning about Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network
June 19, 1865 was not a day I was aware of, and I’m honestly surprised by that. I went to a predominantly African-American elementary school that made Alex Haley’s “Roots” films, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” book and a field trip to see the Denzel Washington-led film just another day in a laundry list of black lessons learned.
So how I managed to overlook Juneteenth is anybody’s guess. I didn’t know about it in high school and clearly not this college. It still puzzles me that I graduated from a historically black college & university (HBCU) and slept straight through it, too. So when people were irate about Episode 3 of “Black AF” and the quip about “no one” celebrating Juneteenth, all I could do was shrug. In Chicago, it just wasn’t widely celebrated like it apparently is in the South.
But somewhere along the line, someone told me about it. I couldn’t begin to remember who it was. I just know that — 10 years ago — I was going to spend my first Juneteenth with Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) at my first (of two) concerts seeing him live. This was also the first time I’d be introduced to the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.
I won’t even lie. I went 99.9 percent to see Yasiin Bey as the headliner and to cover the story for a beat I had as the Chicago News & Events Examiner (when Examiner.com was pretty popular). But there was such a sense of peace, unity and amazing food that made me want to be there even if my favorite male emcee canceled. (To my relief, he did not.) Even the supporting performances were as good as the main event, and I was way in the back while the Brooklyn native performed. My video footage wasn’t the greatest, but seeing him live with approximately 20K other people rapping every word of his songs was well worth it for the energy alone.