Usher, Lupita Nyong’o, Taylor Swift and more celebrities honor Juneteenth, call for action

Usher, Lupita Nyong’o, Taylor Swift and more celebrities honor Juneteenth, call for action

Rasha Ali
USA TODAY

Published 6:21 PM EDT Jun 19, 2020

It’s Juneteenth and the celebrities are celebrating.

Juneteenth (June 19) has been a thing for over 150 years and has been a legal state holiday in Texas since 1980. But the day has received more recognition  amid Black Lives Matter protests, prompting stars including Usher, Lupita Nyong’o, Tom Hanks and Taylor Swift to speak out.

The holiday, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the day slaves in Texas learned they were free. Though President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation technically freed slaves in 1862, enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas didn’t find out until two and a half years later.

Usher wrote a moving op-ed piece about the importance of Juneteenth and why it should be recognized as a national holiday for all Americans to celebrate. 

“The liberation Juneteenth commemorates is cause for celebration, but it also reminds us how equality can be delayed,” the “Confessions” artist wrote for the Washington Post. “My heart is shattered by the ongoing injustices in this country, incited by its long history of racism that has led to deadly outcomes for too many of our people. This country must change.”

The 41-year-old singer wrote that making Juneteenth a national holiday would be a “small gesture” in light of the other social struggles Black people are battling, but it “can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”

Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o also called for Juneteenth to be recognized on a federal level. 

The actress shared a photo to Instagram Friday of Opal Lee, whom she described as “the force behind the movement to make #Juneteenth a national holiday.”

Lee is a 93-year-old activist who has been fighting to get the holiday recognized nationally for years. 

“Recognizing Juneteenth nationally would be one more way of acknowledging the intrinsic value of Black people and their history to the wealth and prosperity of the USA,” Nyong’o wrote beside Lee’s photo. “We are aware that oversight of these historical events blinds and misleads both our present and our future generations. It encourages willful ignorance and the touting of revisionist history.”

The “Us” actress then called on her followers to sign a Change.org petition to join Lee in her fight to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Though Juneteenth isn’t recognized as a federal holiday, Taylor Swift decided to give her employees the day off. On Thursday, the Grammy Award winning artist shared a video to Instagram from The Root about the historical significance of Juneteenth.

“Personally, I’ve made the decision to give all of my employees June 19th off in honor of Freedom Day from now on, and to continue to educate myself on the history that brought us to this present moment,” Swift captioned the post. “For my family, everything that has transpired recently gives us an opportunity to reflect, listen, and reprogram any part of our lives that hasn’t been loudly and ferociously anti-racist, and to never let privilege lie dormant when it could be used to stand up for what’s right.”

In honor of Juneteenth, the iconic Verzuz battle is putting the spotlight on John Legend and Alicia Keys as they go head to head Friday. 

Keys also dropped a new song on Juneteenth called “A Perfect Way to Die,” about a mother who has lost her son.

“Of course, there is NO perfect way to die,” Keys wrote on Twitter Thursday. “That phrase doesn’t even make sense. Just like it doesn’t make sense that there are so many innocent lives that should not have been taken from us due to the destructive culture of police violence.”

Rising music artist Breland has also released music about police brutality, dropping the project “Rage and Sorrow” the night before Juneteenth. On Instagram, the singer wrote that the project deal with balancing these strong emotions.

“We focus a lot on the rage because it makes us feel powerful, but without acknowledging the sorrow, sometimes we end up only hurting ourselves,” he wrote.

Swizz Beatz and Timbaland — Grammy-winning legends in their own rights — started hosting the friendly competition while fans and artists are homebound due to the coronavirus. Past battles have included Teddy Riley and Babyface, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott and T-Pain and Lil Jon, among many others.

Pharrell Williams stood by Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday as he announced that he would be giving state employees Juneteenth off and work towards making it a state holiday.

Williams, who is from Virginia Beach, spoke during the Governor’s press conference saying that “this is our chance in Virginia to lead by example.”

“A paid holiday is just the start—to stand in solidarity with Black employees and with all Black people,” he captioned his video shared to Instagram. 

Tom Hanks also got in on recognizing Juneteenth. The actor, who recently recovered from coronavirus shared a simple message to social media. 

“A Day to celebrate. Nationally. Working towards Liberty and Justice. For All. Hanx,” the 63-year-old actor wrote alongside a photo that implied that Juneteenth was what Fourth of July was supposed to be.

“Juneteenth. When America became a more perfect Union. ‘… that all men are created equal…’ ” the post read. “All men are created equal” is from the Declaration of Independence, which is what July 4 commemorates.” 

George Clooney made a generous donation to the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit working to help incarcerated individuals. 

“Thank you President Trump for ‘making Juneteenth famous’. Much like when Bull Connor made ‘Civil Rights’ famous. My family will be donating 500 thousand dollars to the Equal Justice Initiative in honor of your heroic efforts,” Clooney said in a statement provided by his publicist, Stan Rosenfeld. 

Hundreds of Black entertainers and artists came together to issue a statement via a new collective called “Black Artists For Freedom.”

The statement called for structural change and racial justice in fields that relate to culture like journalism, film, theater, fashion and more. The collective likened Juneteenth to what was currently going on in the United States noting that much like enslaved Black people found out slavery was abolished two and a half years late, it appears that “much of America is getting the news, more than a hundred years late.”

“The fact is plain: Black people are still not free,” the statement read before outlining a five point action plan for cultural institutions that call for breaking ties with police and advocating for Black people.

The statement is signed by Ava DuVernay, Gabrielle Union, Sterling K. Brown, John Legend, Tessa Thompson, Niecy Nash, Virgil Abloh and Tierra Whack to name just a few.

More: ‘Miss Juneteenth’ is the American Dream deferred: The movie’s most poignant moments

Contributing: Charles Trepany

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