Honoring Juneteenth

June 19, 2020

Dear Changemakers,

In the spirit of listening and learning, I am sharing with you the powerful essays written by of some of my Urban Institute colleagues on the occasion of Juneteenth.

In her piece, Adaeze Okoli describes her fear that once the urgency of this moment fades, the reasons for honoring Juneteenth will be diminished or forgotten. Here, she explains what Juneteenth means to her:

“To me, Juneteenth represents many things: One, it represents an opportunity for us as a country to explicitly name and speak on the history that makes us uncomfortable and how the legacy of slavery and discrimination continue to negatively affect Black people. Two, it offers a moment for learning and reflection—activities that can lead to corrective action and social transformation. The history of Juneteenth and its significance is not one often taught in schools. This is a moment for all of us, Black people and especially our allies, to learn about this critical history and reflect on how we can build spaces that prioritize racial justice. Finally, it’s an opportunity to celebrate Black joy and humanity. In a country, rooted in antiblackness, choosing to lift up, honor, and respect Black people is a critical step in the right direction.”

In his essay, Steven Brown reflects that, centuries after his ancestors’ bondage, America is still his home, his native land, yet it is a country that has, thus far, failed to live up to its promise to its people:

“We cannot fully appreciate the significance of Juneteenth without acknowledging the enduring racial inequalities still apparent in today’s time of crisis. COVID-19 and the recent tragic killings of Black people at the hands of police (or vigilantes, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery) are the visible cracks in the foundation of democracy. Although no longer in bondage, the hope of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have yet to be fully realized for people of African descent who call this land home.”

Along with these moving essays in honor of Juneteenth, my colleague Monique King-Viehland also wrote a powerful piece about the anxieties of traveling across the country as an interracial family during a pandemic and an uprising. I am both grateful that she made the journey to join us here at Urban and saddened that the trip was so harrowing. Despite the stressors of getting here, Monique found a warm welcome in her new neighborhood and hope for the future. She writes:

“Even amid the battle against structural racism and police brutality, the fight for black lives, and the war for equality, there is hope and goodness in the world.

Hoping your Juneteenth is meaningful and memorable.

Warmly,
Sarah