Juneteenth Parade Philadelphia at Malcom X Park African American Independence Day. – Philadelphia, PA / USA – June 22 2019 (Shutterstock)
By Victoria Falk
While our nation has come a long way since June 19, 1866, when the first Juneteenth celebration took place in Texas, there is still a long way to go. Juneteenth marks the day we celebrate the official end of slavery in the United States. While previously regarded as a day having significance to African- Americans only, the day has gained greater importance since being recognized as a national holiday.
We celebrate the freedom of the slaves, many of whom spent time with shackled ankles and wrists. But the metal shackles our enslaved ancestors wore were replaced with mental slavery, segregated and inferior quality school systems, a prison system that keeps Black people in a vicious cycle of recidivism, and institutional racism.
During a recent online forum, Black women in government expressed their thoughts on Juneteenth. While the women celebrated the recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday, each agreed that there is still more to do.
Here is what the ladies had to say:
Camille Joseph-Goldman, the Moderator of the forum, said that every time the discussion of Juneteenth comes up, the education system and the value of education come up. In addition, Joseph stressed the power of the freedom to vote. She mentioned efforts made to restrict people’s right to vote and stressed the need to vote.
Hazel Dukes, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) New York State, said, “We need equity in our school system and want every child to have the education and technology we need. Students in Harlem should have access to the same things as students in Buffalo. What about our community health centers, so people don’t have to travel far from their neighborhoods for health care?”
Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman said that she is “…a strong proponent of history, our children need to know they came from greatness.” “I am so proud of the Juneteenth celebration.”
Hyndman remembered her Jamaican parents’ strong emphasis on education when the family emigrated to the United States. “Education is the tool to level the playing field,” stressed Hyndman.
Hyndman expressed concern that “…Black men and Black women have no access to education while incarcerated”…and said the system must “…Be more inclusive.”
Assembly Member Latrice Walker – Walker discussed her concerns about the number of people going from school to prison and aging out of the child welfare system to end up in “…the prison pipeline.” She equated going to prison as “…a return to slavery.” Walker also stressed the importance of voting. “Be out to vote and vote early,” stated Walker.
Assembly Member Pamela Hunter – Hunter, said women of color are “…putting in double, quadruple the effort to get things done…. But, unfortunately, we still have institutional racism. The problem isn’t rooted in money. It’s rooted in racism.” Hunter also said more needs to be done to address issues of housing, food disparities, and homelessness.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes – Stokes said that “…there’s a challenge every day to do the work we do, as a woman, and as a Black woman. This is the time to build up Black people. Freedom is not free.” Stokes also stressed the need to have “real conversations about race and the real impact race has on people.” “We need to get to the point where education works for all of us. Equity for every child said, Stokes.
Social Justice Leader, Movement Strategist, and Author Tamika Mallory – Ms. Mallory said, “We are in a moment where we must have all hands on deck. Elected officials must have the will and courage to accomplish the goals of our people. Unfortunately, too many Black leaders are scared to stand up, scared to stand out. We need people who are standing firmly with our community.”
As we commemorate Juneteenth, remember the day as not merely a day off but a time to build. During the recent public forum, several Black women in leadership and government outlined areas that still need improvement regarding Black communities. While the nation recognizes the freedom of the slaves, these leaders shared their hopes for what they want to see in Black communities.