3 books that celebrate the Black experience to read this Juneteenth

Ashton Jackson for CNBC Make It

Juneteenth is a 157-year-old holiday that celebrates the liberation of Black Americans from slavery. It’s also an annual reminder of the systemic racism, oppression and brutality Black people have faced in America. However, if you’d like to spend the holiday enjoying stories about Black empowerment, triumph and purpose, Nakisha Lewis, president and CEO of Breakthrough, a media advocacy organization, has you covered.

Lewis says she has been an advocate for racial justice since she was young, organizing events on her high school and college campuses. Prior to working at Breakthrough, Lewis was the director of civil, human, and women’s rights at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

As someone with Caribbean parents, Lewis didn’t grow up celebrating Juneteenth but became more aware of its significance after the fatal 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin.

“It’s not something that I grew up with. It wasn’t a family tradition, but, as a Black person being in Black spaces, learning more and sharing our Black experiences across the diaspora, I realized we get to acknowledge this any way we want.”

In honor of the legacy of Juneteenth, Lewis says these three books should be at the top of your reading list:

“Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower”

By Brittney Cooper

The trope of Black women being aggressive is something many people would like to disappear. However, Brittney Cooper takes this stereotype and recharacterizes it in this collection of essays. Walking readers through her own personal experiences with the problems facing Black women, Cooper demonstrates that “eloquent rage” is a reminder that women don’t have to be complacent, and that their passion and fury is what makes them iconic.

Lewis says that this book “aligns with her own journey as a Black feminist.”

“I think a lot of the folks that Brittney, references, and mentions made me realize, ‘yeah, this is this is what feminism looks like.’ It also helped me answer the question how do you find yourself? Your purpose, passion and joy? I think we’ve all got different superpowers, and you’ve got to figure out what yours is. But that journey, she takes us through, you know, it’s just such a different perspective. And it felt like there was a lot of synergy there.”

“All Boys Aren’t Blue”

By George M. Johnson

This book is a memoir/manifesto about Johnson’s early life growing up as a young, gay Black man. Appealing to young adults, Johnson walks readers through the trials and tribulations he faced as a boy in addition to the joys he experienced along the way. 

‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ touches on complex topics such as consent, toxic masculinity and gender identity, and Lewis believes this book has “broken barriers” young, Black, queer men of color.

“Just As I Am: A Memoir”

By Cicely Tyson

The late Cicely Tyson is a legend in the Black community for her roles in movies like ‘Sounder’ and TV projects like ‘Roots.’ Though she played many different roles during her 60-year-long career, her portrayal of a powerful black woman was constant, garnering her the love, respect, and matriarch status of Black women from all walks of life.

Her memoir walks readers through her life before and after the fame, and exposes the pain and hurt she felt as a Black woman living in America. Lewis praises Tyson for her authenticity and transparency in sharing her story.

“Looking at the dynamic life that she lived, there’s so much that I learned from the book. Literally from the struggles of the early 1900s, to becoming someone who’s just broken so many barriers in film. She is very, very inspirational to me.”

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