News and HeadlinesWorking For You


Teacher teams up with former student for 'Independence Day' — A Juneteenth Anthem

Posted at 11:05 AM, Jun 18, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — June 19, also known as Juneteenth, is now a federal holiday.

The day marks the freeing of slaves in Texas. Slavery ended in 1862 but the news didn't make it to the state until 1865.

For many years the day has been recognized culturally and called "Freedom Day" as well as "Emancipation Day." But last year got the ball rolling on making sure the day is celebrated in all 50 states.

A video project called "Independence Day" helps shine a light on the progress, and how much more work our society has to do.

A student and teacher decided to use their creativity to tell people what Juneteenth is and inspire change in the world around them.

The bond these two share is undeniable. Their latest collaboration features a common thread and uses their talents to wake up the world.

"Even though we were emancipated in 1865 there are a lot of injustices and things that still need attention," Al Smith, a Pike High School teacher, said. "When we say 'independence' the playing field needs to be leveled against many facets."

Smith is a teacher, filmmaker and change maker. Zion Simpson used to be one of his students at Pike High School, and that's how the two got connected.

"With everything happening last year, I was just in a lot of pain. At the beginning of the year, we had Ahmaud Arbery," Simpson started.

And the pain only worsened when he watched the eight-minute-long video of George Floyd's death.

"Then Breonna Taylor happened and at that point I was just extremely frustrated," Simpson said. "So I just sat down that night after hearing about Breonna Taylor and I just wrote."

He took his pain and turned it into power. Writing what would eventually become Independence Day. A song detailing his struggle.

That's where Smith comes in. He's the song's video director.

"I heard it and I was blown away," Smith said. "I'm like absolutely. Let's go. Let's do it."

The powerful video leaves viewers wanting to help. And the reception from his friends has been positive.

They were shocked to hear a raw take. It opened their perspectives," Simpson said. I" wasn't alone in pain or in the way I felt. We see it and we recognize it needs to change. I just want to see change, I just need to see change."

And it was only fitting to deem the film the Juneteenth Anthem.

"When you think of Independence Day, you think of July 4. But that's not really ... isn't applicable for African Americans because when July 4 happened a long time ago, we were still slaves. For that reason, Juneteenth means more to me," Smith said.