Black Wisdom: A Reflection on Juneteenth

On a recent still night as I watched global protests on TV against the killing of Black people, my heart caught a scene that profoundly crushed me. It occurred over a few seconds and my guess is that it was not repeatedly publicized.

The killing of innocent and defenseless Black people is not new, it’s more public. In my elder body, I have seen worse, and so have my ancestors. With the flash cards of our news cycles, memories are short, and minds distracted. Some of you may have forgotten how blatantly racist the majority senate was when President Obama was in office, and how this continues with even more force, fury, and fear. A lot of white folks in power never got over Obama and his family occupying the White House.

And you have to admit – and I know many of you are doing so loudly – that there is something about a White police officer lynching by knee a defenseless Black man who is using his last breath to call to his mama, that rips at the soul of Black people and reveals the soullessness of this nation. This public killing, so normalized, all on the hills of White vigilantes chasing down and killing an innocent and defenseless Black man while jogging. Every time I see a white person jogging, I scream inside: Why can’t my people be carefree? There is so much Black harm, so many Black killings, and so much grief. I write to you on Juneteenth, a date marked for when Black people annually celebrate the ending of chattel slavery, only to continue to witness modern-day expressions of violent and death.

Back to this video clip of the protesters that cracked me wide open – a scene I could have easily missed had I chosen to brush my teeth.

A Black man, maybe 24 – the age of my grandson – short, round body, dreadlocks, right hand gripping a baseball bat, walking with increasing intensity toward the window of a retail store. Then the most unexpected and amazing thing happened. Black protestors surrounded him, affirming him with hopeful chants, and encouraging him to join them in a peaceful protest. It took a few moments, but then he surrendered to their care. I sensed that perhaps his deeper wish had been met in that moment: to be seen, to have the weight of his rage shared, and to be cared for. Maybe he even glimpsed that while he could die that day, it would be with a softer heart.

Day to day I had been coping reasonably well, maintaining a steady mindfulness practice and open protest, supporting clients, community, and family back off their ledges. But in this moment – in this blink of an eye, this exhale, I was gutted in grief. What got me most was that I recognized myself in this young man – that part of me that feels insanely enraged, weary, and longing to call mama. And I recognized the power of being seen in my suffering, and to surrendering to care -- something I had denied needing.

I found myself sharing this experience with my Black Wisdom Circle last week only to realize that they were the peaceful protestors surrounding me in compassionate presence, witnessing my trembling voice, grimacing face, tight fists, and raw rage; holding my grief and sadness until it dissolved; without interruption, just care. Within a few moments, I felt release, more spacious, and reposed.

I touched a deeper longing that many Black people share: to be seen by each other, reassured, and surrounded in loving care – this, to me, is the healing meaning of Juneteenth! This we can only give to ourselves.

Join me in a six-week Black Wisdom Circle I am offering on Tuesdays, starting June 30 from 3-5pm ET. Visit Upcoming Events Tab to register!


Dear Ruth, Thank you for all you “be” and “do”. The one word I have for the story you almost missed is “exquisite”. The longing to be seen, held and healed is achingly captured and the depth of the love we have when come together is mandatory. We must heal and we can’t do that without each other. So happy to bask in your wisdom. ~ Love, Shakti Butler, World Trust 

20 thoughts on “Black Wisdom: A Reflection on Juneteenth”

    1. Thinking of you and remembering how in a Celebration of Rage retreat decades ago, you surrounded me in my vulnerability and allowed space for me to heal.
      Thank you, my dear insightful sister. Deep bow.

      1. Yes! Those Rage Retreats were awesome.
        I will always remember my participation (and later being a support person) there in Rage Cave. Just one Rage Retreat gave me deeper healing than years of therapy. I know how fortunate I was to be able to witness and support women of color in the Rage Cave in releasing and healing.
        Today, Juneteenth, I light a candle again for an end to injustice and all racism, for Ruth and all your Black brothers and sisters still enduring horrific ways of racism.
        Beautiful writing, Ruth. I am eternally grateful to have learned so much from you, especially our times together in Rage Cave.
        Love, Lupa

  1. Cynthia Embree-Lavoie

    Thank you Ruth. I feel such deep sadness for the heavy weight of fear and grief that you and your Black sisters and brothers continue to have to carry. I can only hope that the work that you do (although I’m guessing you’re pretty weary of it at times) will continue to open the eyes of us white folks so that we can truly change how we live in ways that will honor and support all people.
    I recently started wearing my “Mindful of Race” bracelet again whenever I leave the house, to remind myself of the privilege I have that not everyone shares.
    Cynthia (DPP5)

  2. Colette Baron-Reid

    Ruth, to read these words and to know your heart, to see these events through your eyes and emotions, and to be present to your experience and everything that has come up for you has moved me so deeply. I have learned so much from you my friend. I send you so much respect and a heartfelt commitment to keep doing the work, I love you.

  3. The power of being seen and held in our suffering is everything. Thank you, Ruth. All my love and gratitude and Happy Juneteenth!

  4. Judith Simmer-brown

    Thank you again for sharing from the heart. Your example is such an expression of the humanity we all yearn to connect with at this time. Deep bows.

  5. thank you, dear Ruth
    I was so moved by your description of that 24yr old young man and the love, care and support he received. I’m so glad you too are being held by your Black Wisdom Circle and can continue to share wisdom and insights amidst the pain.
    It renews my commitment to, as best I can, cease being a part of perpetuating that pain.
    With respect, admiration and much love

  6. Beautiful. Thank you so much for that deep description of feeling all of your feelings, particularly the rage, and holding or accessing a peaceful heart in the midst of all of that. What a gift a wisdom circle is. Blessings.

  7. Thank you for this, Ruth. Your words touched me deeply. The more I understand, the more I have pondered the calm and equanimity you exude when you teach, especially when you teach us white folks. I appreciate your eloquent expression of the rage and pain that never quite goes away. I am sorry. May the grace that surrounds you continue to support your voice and your truth.

  8. Cynthia Winton-Henry

    Amen. Love to you on this day Ruth! I hope to read your words to my new cohousing community tomorrow.

  9. Thank you for your generosity sharing. Every Juneteenth I remember Emmitt Till and the cold hearts that took out their rage on this 14 year old child. These wounds are again being put in the sunlight where healing can happen. Much love.

  10. “…to be seen by each other, reassured, and surrounded in loving care” — resonates deeply as an Asian-American. Thank you for articulating so beautifully.

  11. Thank you for articulating your emotions and how graceful gestures can be transformational. Peace and love to you.

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