I remember my first therapy session like it was yesterday.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. I was rushing over to the office after work, racing past people on Market Street like I was in the final lap at the Penn Relays. My mind was running its own race, perhaps swifter than my feet.
Jesse Owens on the ground, Usain Bolt between the ears.
How would this person be?
Would they relate to me?
Would I allow myself to be vulnerable?
For some reason, the warm smile of the security guard as I signed in to get onto the elevator – handing me a tissue to wipe my sweaty brow — is a picture I can recall clearly, even so many years later.
When I signed out about one hour later, I felt lighter, more than satisfied. And I pondering more questions.
Why haven’t I looked into these issues before?
Did I not think I was able to do so?
What held me back?
Those questions began a journey I hold very sacred. A journey of family, of tradition, of values, and of culture.
A culture I remember us discussing during one session – about holidays and what they’ve meant in the context of my family.
Juneteenth came up. Well, I raised it. They were familiar, but I had to do some filling in.
So, the history goes: On June 19, 1865, Union Army general Gordon Granger gave the historic announcement in Galveston, Texas – called General Order No. 3 – that enslaved Black people would be free, with Texas being the last state of the Confederacy still enforcing institutional slavery. This would prove to be a monumental declaration that would begin annual celebrations called Juneteenth that have continued for over 150 years. Keep in mind however, we were all taught in elementary school, if not middle school, that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved Black people on Jan. 1, 1863 – two years earlier.
Sometimes, institutional barriers oppose our road to liberation. Sometimes, we persevere through life-altering traumas, mistaking our surviving for thriving. Sometimes, we need someone, anyone, to unlock the doors to a vast discovery, even if that discovery is yourself.
Sometimes we are free and don’t even know it.
I had to fight through the stigma, interrogate past harms, and allow myself to be open to the process, which sometimes, isn’t overnight … or even a couple of years.
So when I think of Juneteenth, I think of those Black folks in Galveston rejoicing. And I think of sessions on a couch, looking out the window at a glistening Center City landscape.
I think of possibilities. They’re endless.
About the Author: Gabriel Bryant is the Community Engagement Equity Manager for the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilty Services (DBHIDS) where he oversees the Engaging Males of Color (EMOC) initiative.