Back home in Texas this weekend, Quandre Diggs will spend Juneteenth the way he always does, celebrating both the June 19th holiday, which is an annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States, while also celebrating the birthdays of his mother and his brother, former NFL cornerback Quentin Jammer.
But for a lot of Americans, and white Americans in particular, Juneteenth is either a holiday they only recently learned about, or perhaps had a vague concept of without really understanding the meaning behind the celebration. And as the dialogue about systemic racism and social justice has increased in recent years, and particularly last year following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there has been more widespread recognition of Juneteenth, including in the NFL. Last year NFL teams and the league announced that they would start recognizing the holiday, and earlier this week President Joe Biden signed into a law a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday.
"It's really important. I definitely think it should be a national holiday," Diggs said earlier in the week before Juneteenth did indeed become a national holiday. "As a nation, we've got to tell the truth. For us, especially down south, that was a big time for us as Black people. I've always celebrated it— it's my mom and my brother's birthday. We always had big parades in my hometown and they always kind of gave it the attention it deserved. So for me it's been really special, and it's kind of cool that people are finally getting on the wave and understanding what it really means to us as Black people."
As Diggs points out, Juneteenth is a chance not just to celebrate the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were freed two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, but to also tell the truth about our country's ugly history with racism, which continued long after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.
"Tell the truth, let people know," Diggs said. "That's when we were really free, and that's when we were really able to have the rights that other people had, so I definitely think is very important."
Tyler Lockett, who recently partnered with a Black-owned bookstore in Tulsa, Oklahoma to sell a Black History Collection series of bookmarks that raise money for Black-owned business, sees Juneteenth as another chance to promote Black history.
"It's very important that we continue to keep learning about our history," Lockett said. "For me, I'm still learning about (Juneteenth) and learning about a lot of other stuff as well. It's a big step forward for the country just to be able to finally start to recognize the truth behind our history and being able to help us move forward, not only as we continue to heal but as we continue to build."
By learning more not just about Juneteenth, but about the systemic racism that continued in America long after enslaved people were set free, people can begin the difficult process of righting those wrongs.
"It's a great step in the right direction as we continue to uncover hidden truths and that type of stuff," Lockett said. "We're able to heal the wounds that are finally revealed and to build something that will better our future and better our community. The more you start learning about our history and events and things that took place, you start to truly realize the significance of certain times and situation. It's crazy that some people are just now learning it, but it's something that once you learn more about it, you start to really appreciate who you are and your culture and so much other stuff."
Throughout the 2020 season, Seahawks players chose to represent social justice initiatives and honor victims of racism and police brutality with helmet decals to show their support.