Things That Matter

These Surprising Facts Will Explain Why Latinos Ought To Celebrate Juneteenth

@handel.eugene \ Instagram

Every year, June 19 marks the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865. The holiday has come to mean so much more, and now stands as a symbolic commemoration of the liberation of all enslaved African Americans in what used to be the Confederate States of America and is now the United States. June 19 is a cause for celebration, of course, but also an opportunity to question how far civil liberties for Black communities and other people of color have truly come. This is similar to the controversies in Latin America when it comes to celebrating various independence days. For example, did Independence Day in Mexico, which is celebrated on September 16, really mean something for indigenous communities that still live precariously and are seen as an ethnic minority? Or even still, should Latin Americans celebrate Columbus Day even if it was the beginning of brutal and unfair processes of colonization? History is a tricky beast: it is defined by wars and power struggles, and as such, holidays should always be questioned.

So Juneteenth is not short of controversy when it comes to defining its true power as a source of pride. It is common to read reports of the huge inequalities that still permeate everyday life in the United States in areas such as education, job opportunities and fairness in law enforcement. It is sadly common to see videos of police officers abusing young black men and women, sometimes to deadly extremes. Similarly, university education is a far away dream for many Black young people and for people of color in general.

Juneteenth is about love and sorrow, the terrible past and a promising future. For these reasons, Juneteenth has gained renewed importance today, when communities and historians are questioning whether the promise of freedom for African Americans was really fulfilled or if there are still miles to go to attain real equality and justice.

1. Does Juneteenth truly count as Independence Day?

Credit: Twitter. @mathowie

Juneteenth is also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day. Celebrations include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and of the works of African-American literary giants such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. But the question remains: is July 4th a celebration for all Americans, or should Juneteenth be seen as the realization of the American Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity?

2. Some argue that Juneteenth is under-appreciated and needs to be a bigger deal.

Credit: Twitter. @deyeskeyra

Some Twitter users bring up interesting debates regarding the celebration, claiming that young Black people should celebrate that first and then July 4th. A big part of African American identity has to do with honoring the ancestors, and Juneteenth is a great opportunity to reflect upon their many tribulations.

3. For 89 years after Independence Day slavery was still legal.

Credit: Instagram. @hbcubuzz

Let that sink in: for almost nine decades millions of human beings were enslaved, even if the United States had gained its independence. Insta is full of interesting historical facts that are like una cubetada de agua fria, a wake up call that needs to be listed too. BTW, these colors are the Pan-African flag!

4. Following 1865: 89 more years of segregation.

Credit: Instagram. @tayejansberry

Some social media users remind us that the abolition of slavery did not bring equality. It was another 89 years before the civil rights movement gained traction and started to right the wrong of segregation. Yes, Black men and women were “free”, but not free to live where, how and when they wished. MLK and Rosa Parks were still a few decades away.

5. Juneteenth is an opportunity to ask ourselves: what is America?

Credit: Instagram. @delstarr_arts

Particularly in the current political climate, full of divisive opinions, Juneteenth is a good opportunity to question the role of minorities in the country. Artist Del Starr echoes the now legendary video by Childish Gambino in which he enacts several key and often traumatic events of recent Black history.

6. Guess what? Not all states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

Credit: Instagram. @thelilynews

It might seem crazy, but the states of Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota do not recognize the date. The first one to recognize it was Texas in 1980. In other states, it is either a state holiday or a day of observance. It is not a federal holiday, however.

7. Juneteenth works to question and quash stereotypes.

Credit: Instagram. @black.is.dope_

Wow, this is a powerful, assertive and totally true statement. For years, African Americans worked for free and today stereotypes harm their communities, but at the same time, job and educational opportunities are statistically lower for Black populations. That is just not OK.

8. Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate African heritage!

Credit: Twitter. @NickBattleMusic

African culture has influenced music, fashion and the arts in the United States and the whole continent for centuries. Juneteenth has been used as an opportunity to showcase African roots. Do you know what a dashiki is? Well, it is a gorgeous roomy shirt from West Africa. Get one and celebrate Juneteenth, whatever your ethnicity is.

9. Juneteenth is a way to express your identity and not follow others como borrego.

Credit: Twitter. @Rickee_Smith3rd

We love this photoshoot of Afro-beauty. The traditional red, black, yellow and green combination looks amazing. Salud for more teenagers like her who are proud of their heritage. Diversity is to be celebrated rather than hidden.

10. City councils are getting it: this needs to be a loud, proud celebration

Credit: Twitter. @wabenews

Atlanta is echando la casa por la ventana from June 14-16. We encourage you to find what your local council is doing and get your pride up and running!

11. Black politicians are a testament to the progress that has been made.

Credit: Twitter. @MayorByronBrown

Black men and women who have been elected into a position of power have made sure that Black identity is celebrated. Byron Brown, Buffalo’s first African American mayor, raised the Pan-African flag as part of the Juneteenth Festival.

12. Cultural institutions also work as a hub for all things Juneteenth.

Credit: Twitter. @mfaboston

Check your local museum’s webpage for Juneteenth events. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for example, is hosting an incredible festival. No te lo puedes perder.

13. A happy coincidence: Pride Month and Juneteenth go hand in hand!

Credit: Twitter. @mixxmomma

In one of those cases in which the stars align, Juneteenth and Pride Month are so close together that Black queers have taken it as an opportunity to double their celebration of pride. It is ALWAYS a good idea to scream to the world: “This is who we are and we love it!”.

A Salvadoran Rape Victim Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Having A Stillbirth Has Been Acquitted

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A Salvadoran Rape Victim Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Having A Stillbirth Has Been Acquitted

On average, there are 321,000 victims of rape and sexual assault in the United States, and in Latin American countries those numbers are even more horrifying. In many Latin American countries, violence against women is a lot more prevalent and women even end up paying far greater consequences for simply being victims of rape and assault than their abusers. For one, in countries like El Salvador, there’s an absolute ban on abortion which has led to the harsh criminalization of women and their bodies. 

In July of 2017, the now 21-year-old Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide by a court in El Salvador. The year before, the young rape survivor was found on the floor of her bathroom drenched in blood and when she was taken to the hospital, doctors examined her and saw signs of delivery but no baby. Hours later, after doctors had reported this to the authorities, local officials found a newborn dead in a septic tank. Then the young woman was accused of inducing abortion and aggravated homicide. 

On Monday, August 19, 21-year-old Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was acquitted after a judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict her of the alleged crime she had been accused of years prior. 

According to reports, the young woman walked out of a women’s jail in El Salvador on February 15 where she was met by a crowd of cheering women carrying “Justice for Evelyn” banners. This is where Evelyn had been for nearly three years after being convicted for aggravated homicide after she had a stillbirth. Her recent acquittal, however, didn’t come easy. Earlier this month, she was headed back to the courtroom to be tried once more for the same crime. 

Evelyn isn’t the first woman to be accused of murder by El Salvador after having a miscarriage.

According to BuzzFeed News, she’s one of the dozens of women accused of murder and “her case will be the first of its kind tried under recently inaugurated President Nayib Bukele, who has spoken out against the punishment of impoverished women who have suffered ‘spontaneous abortions,’ putting the new administration’s stance on women’s rights to the test.” Although it’s a significant step in the right direction, there’s still so much more to be done in regards to fighting for these women’s rights to choose and have ultimate control and agency over their bodies.

Evelyn, who served 33 months of her initial 3-year sentence, always maintained her innocence. She repeatedly has said that she didn’t know she was pregnant until the delivery happened. The young woman had been raped by a local gang member while she was still a teenager, and didn’t know she was pregnant until 32 weeks later. 

According to CNN, Evelyn told reporters last month that if she had known she was pregnant, she would have “awaited the baby with pride and joy.” 

Evelyn’s case has not only drawn a lot of media attention because of the nature of it but has also drawn major spotlight to El Salvador’s abortion laws which are known to be some of the strictest in the world. 

The country imposed a total ban on abortions since 1998, according to ThinkProgress. It’s one of the 16 countries in the world with these strict regulations—other countries including Egypt, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, among others. In El Salvador, women who are even suspected of having an abortion could be prosecuted for a crime. 

For example, if a woman even seeks abortion treatment and is reported to the authorities, she could face being prosecuted for that crime. Pregnancy terminations of any kind are simply illegal in El Salvador, including when the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother or like Evelyn’s case, even if the woman was raped. 

After the verdict of her acquittal was announced on Monday, Evelyn can be seen smiling jubilantly with tears in her eyes in images circulating on social media. “Thank God, justice was served,” the young woman told reporters after her ruling.  

“I thank all of you who have supported me and thank everyone from around the world who has shown support,” Evelyn said, according to CNN. “It was tough to be locked up, especially when I was innocent. There are others who are still locked up and I hope they are freed soon.” 

Dozens of women in El Salvador have been prosecuted for murder after suffering miscarriages and stillbirth’s and given sentences between 30 and 40 years. 

After this pivotal moment for women’s rights of El Salvador and other countries with similar abortion laws, we hope more individuals will make the choice to support other cases and women like this one. 

Cyntoia Brown Was Finally Released From Prison After 15 Years– This Is What Resistance Looks Like

Things That Matter

Cyntoia Brown Was Finally Released From Prison After 15 Years– This Is What Resistance Looks Like

After spending almost half her life behind bars, Cyntoia Brown was released on parole early Wednesday morning, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections.  Brown, who was sentenced to life in prison when she was 16 years old after killing a man who allegedly forced her into sex, served 15 years in the Tennessee Prison for Women. 

Now, at 31, she is slated to begin her life on parole for the next 10 years.

As part of her parole, Brown is required to maintain employment or educational enrollment, participate in regular counseling sessions and perform at least 50 hours of community service, including working with at-risk youth.

Brown earned her associate degree from Lipscomb University in 2015 with a 4.0 GPA, obtained a bachelor’s degree in the Tennessee Prison for Women in May and has regularly worked with the state’s juvenile justice system to help counsel young people at risk. Her case gained national attention last December when a Tennessee Supreme Court ruled she would have to serve 51 years in prison before being eligible for parole. High-profiled celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Lebron James and Cara Delevingne joined choirs of activists and outraged citizens advocating for her release and funding legal support.

“Something his (sic) horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life,” Rihanna captioned a post on Instagram in November 2017.

Kardashian West shared the pop star’s post on Twitter

 “The system has failed. Its heartbreaking to see young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right,” she added. 

With mounting pressure, former Gov. Bill Haslam took the rare step of commuting Brown’s sentence earlier this year.

In January, Haslan called the sentence “too harsh,” especially considering the “extraordinary steps” she had “taken to rebuild her life” while incarcerated.

“I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord’s help I will make them, as well as the rest of my supporters, proud,” Brown said in a statement released Monday, as reported by USA Today.

Before her release, which occurred at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, she met with counselors to create a plan for her life outside of prison. According to Tennessee’s Department of Corrections, the proposal included joining and participating in a transition center and continuing coursework with the Lipscomb University program. Brown, who was recently married while in prison, also has a book deal. “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System” will be released October 15.

In the years leading to her release, advocates have referred to her case as an example of the “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline,” which represents the unjust imprisonment of child sex trafficking victims and survivors of sexual abuse, particularly girls of color, to rally lawmakers and juvenile justice reformers to push for anti-trafficking laws and more support, rather than incarceration, for child survivors.

As a teenager, Brown was forced into sex work by a 24-year-old pimp named “Cut Throat” who used to verbally and physically abuse her. 

On Aug. 6, 2004, court documents note that she met 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen, a Nashville real estate agent, in the parking lot of a Sonic Drive-In. After agreeing to be paid $150 for sex, the two went to his home. There, Brown said that Allen showed her multiple guns in a cabinet. At one point, she alleges that the man reached under his bed, seemingly grabbing a firearm. Frightened by the thought that he was planning on killing her, Brown said she took a gun out of her purse and fatally shot Allen.

While Brown has always claimed she killed Allen in self-defense, the prosecution argued that because she took Allen’s wallet after she shot him in the back of the head at close range, that the motive was robbery.

She was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery, which carried, in total, two concurrent life sentences and eight additional years.

However, because Gov. Haslam used his exclusive power to grant executive clemency toward the end of his term, Brown’s sentence was commuted.

Last week, the former Tennessee governor said his decision was based on the state’s evolving approach to juvenile justice, an understanding of Brown’s troubling background and her growth behind bars.

“She, in her own words, did something horrible. She made a really bad decision as a very young woman,” Haslam told USA Today

Brown, who has expressed gratitude to Haslam and her supporters, who last week started a GoFundMe campaign that as of Wednesday afternoon has raised more than $23 thousand, said she feels blessed and ready to use her story and experiences to help others.

“I’m blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation,” she said.

Read: Cyntoia Brown Will Be Released From Prison Next Week And Supporters Have Already Started A GoFundMe