A person wearing an African American flag shirt shakes hands with a person wearing a shirt with sickle cells on it.

World SCD Day and Juneteenth: Not a Coincidence

World Sickle Cell Day is June 19th, the same day that Juneteenth is commemorated.

What is World Sickle Cell Day?

World Sickle Cell Day was established in 2008 by the United Nations after the World Health Organization declared that sickle cell disease (SCD) was a global health issue. World Sickle Cell Day is an opportunity for the global sickle cell community to highlight and amplify the dire need for help in the form of research, funding, and overall awareness and education of this debilitating disease.

World Sickle Cell Day and Juneteenth collide

It is not lost on me that this day falls on the same day that American descendants of enslaved Africans celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday that highlights the emancipation of slaves, marking the end of chattel slavery in the United States. SCD is of course, not a Black disease. However, it poses not only physical but social risks to those who live with it in the United States due to racism, bias, and prejudice in the healthcare and government systems.

Juneteenth signifies freedom from pain, hardship, oppression, and terror, experienced by captured Africans. Juneteenth also signifies endearing hope, the abolition of an era, and forces this country to reckon with its original sin.

In the same light, World Sickle Cell Day, which commemorates a disease that would probably not be so prevalent in the United States had it not been for chattel slavery, shines the light on a disease that, although not bound by ethnicity or race, has been disproportionately ravaging the Black community for hundreds of years.

The bondage of sickle cell disease

SCD can be thought of as an abusive slave owner to the one who lives with SCD, a merciless never-ending sentence of pain and terror, like that of slavery. World Sickle Cell Day in America can be thought of as the SCD community’s Juneteenth, a time to reflect, commemorate, highlight, and amplify the voices and experiences of those who have suffered unjustly and harshly from a terrible disease that was inherited, just as a slave inherited their bondage. SCD for some has felt and unfortunately will feel like inescapable bondage.

Hope for the future

At the same time, World Sickle Cell Day gives us hope that public awareness and education will be garnered. Each year we get one step closer to being free from the horror we've had to endure.

Juneteenth is widely honored, especially since slavery continued in the State of Texas two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Those who were enslaved in Texas were free but did not know it. World Sickle Cell Day reminds us of the fact that, even though it may not feel like it, those of us who live with SCD every day, who face the uncertainty of pain, terror, and violence within our own bodies, are free. Free to live our lives to the fullest, irrespective of our diagnosis which feels more like bondage.

World Sickle Cell Day is the day we commemorate our own Emancipation Proclamation that declares us “forever free.” Thus, breaking the “sickle cycle,” and “thenceforward” breaking what feels like a generational curse. World Sickle Cell Day points us to freedom!

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