This is What Freedom Looks Like

Article by Joce Blake

Photography by Narkita Gold Studio

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Did you know that Juneteenth is the oldest known holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.? Like most of Black history, this triumphant event is not taught in schools. Last year, the holiday received more recognition, with cities and states making it an official holiday. 

One way of celebrating Juneteenth is by keeping the multi-faceted Black experience at the forefront of this celebration. Jasmine Wiley, the creator of Narkita Gold Studio, does just that through her "Black in Denver" series that was recently on display at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art this spring. In essence, it is a visual ethnography "supporting and demonstrating the notion that Blackness, and identity in general, is not a monolith." Jasmine shared with us three portraits from her series—featuring Gwen, Euda and Solwazi—on how loving your authentic self is a form of freedom. 

Gwen, Public Speaker and Kabbalah Student 

What does it mean to you to be Black in Denver?

It is freedom. I’ve made a choice to immerse myself in Mexican, Native American, Jewish, and gay culture. I feel like I’m a part of it all. I believe that we’re all one. Because of my experiences in Denver, I find it easy to exist in different groups. The freedom to be me and the comfort to step into fully being myself is fun and full of lessons.

Euda, Spiritual Guide, Card Reader, Yoga & Meditation Instructor, Selecta 

What does it mean to be you here?

It means freedom. Because it’s so diverse and there aren’t large groups of folks assuming one identity, again, it makes it easier to put your toe into that pool of authenticity. And when you put it in there and you look around and you see that there are no head hunters coming to get you, then you can put your leg in and you eventually jump in. And of course, we all know, the universe supports your every move when you’re being your most authentic self. So that’s the freedom. When you are your authentic self and kind of outside of the status quo, but making it, that’s freedom. Even though I really wanted at times to be in a much Blacker environment, I feel that with my tendency to try to conform, I would have been lost and swallowed up. So being here in this place that doesn’t necessarily honor who I am anyway, allowed me to just go ahead and be all of it.

Solwazi, Mindfulness Practitioner and Teacher

What is the power of being one’s self?

It is a powerful thing; it is our superpower. However, it takes a lot of effort and determination and work to get there. Particularly, growing up in a society that has pathologized every aspect of who I am, especially this Black identity. Being who you are in this society is not easy. I have internalized ways that being Black is wrong or to be the “scary big Black guy” that’s a threat to everyone, so that’s been a part of my healing journey. I’m healing all the ways I’ve internalized that it’s not okay to be me. At this tender age of 62, I am finally learning the superpower of being myself, and with that comes a sense of peace and real freedom. Not having to deal with approval-seeking behavior, all these types of things that keep one small or contracted and keep one from truly thriving. Truly being myself puts me in a position to thrive.

For a mini-history lesson:

  • Not all enslaved people were freed when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863.

  • The Civil War ended in the summer of 1865.

  • Union General Gordon Granger and his troops traveled to Galveston, Texas, to announce "all slaves are free" on June 19.

  • Dating back to 1953, Denver's Juneteenth celebration chock full of food, musical acts, local businesses, and more have taken place in the historic Five Points neighborhood. 

  • In 2004, Juneteenth was recognized as a ceremonial holiday in Colorado.

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