SOCIAL ISSUES

Juneteenth celebrations include calls to end systemic racism

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |
“I think you’re seeing across the country, people starting to wake up to the reality of what it’s like to be back and brown. And I think Americans and citizens of this country are rightfully outraged,” said Karen Jarrett, board member at Arc of Justice. For 24 days, Black Lives Matter protests have swept the nation but today there is added significance. June 19th is known as Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in America. The moment came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed when slaves in Texas learned of their freedom on June 19th, 1865.

Kevin Brown, Vice President of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union, remarked “we’re here to commemorate that ending of slavery, especially significant this year, the movement for Black Lives Matter, and to protest the murdering of innocent black people such as George Floyd in Minneapolis.” As part of that effort, the SEIU organized a motorcade through Newark today. It’s one of many events around the state using the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and the significance of Juneteenth to call for change.

Chase Campbell, co-founder of Men Of Color Alliance at Rowan University, added, “for the last 6 years I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that whenever I step out the house, I could just become another hashtag. Before you speak ill of what’s going on, think about that. This is the fight for our lives, we are physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted. We have had enough.”

The Institute for Social Justice is calling for legislative reform. “There’s several bills that we’re advocating for. One bill is to create a reparations task force that would look at the history of the structural racism in New Jersey from slavery up to present day and start to develop policies and practices that could pour resources back into black communities,” remarked Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director for New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. They’ve also advocated for closing all three of New Jersey’s youth prisons and instead investing $100 million dollars into youth programs and services to keep youth out of prisons but understanding that this is a grassroots movement, the Institute for Social Justice has outlined action items on their website. McChristian continued, “We have this new agenda document, the 10 ways to do racial justice advocacy after you say Black Lives Matter and so this is a 10 point document with a number of action items for people who are wondering in this moment, what can we do, how can we get involved? It ranges from vote, to take the census, to support a campaign to close youth prisons, to supporting the choke hold ban bill, so it’s a number of action items that anyone in New Jersey or across the nation can take to get involved in the current moment.”

Jarrett also added, “We want you to investigate, and prosecute and convict police murderers as well as the victims of police murders. Our second demand is kind of for our own community. Fill out your census form and go and vote.”

Senator Sandra Cunningham is leading an effort, together with Senate President Steve Sweeney, to introduce Juneteenth as a state holiday. In a statement, she said, “By formally recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday we can inspire more people to learn about its meaning and help them gain a better understanding of just how slow progress has been for the Black community.” In Texas, Republican Senator John Cornyn introduced a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Kevin Brown says the support of the white community right now is critical. “We see that economic justice cannot be won without racial justice. And racial justice cannot be achieved without economic justice. It’s incredibly important that white people and myself Jewish as well, stand up and say that we are not going to tolerate racism in our country.”

And while there seems to be bipartisan support for a Juneteenth holiday, many say this is just the beginning of a long road toward true social justice.