Whether with a Day Off or a Day On, Let’s Celebrate Juneteenth as Allies for Justice!

Happy Juneteenth! Empower Missouri is among organizations that has begun a discussion about amending our personnel manual to create a paid staff holiday for Juneteenth. We have not adopted that policy yet, but the deliberative process is just one of the many ways that our staff and Board are attempting to fulfill the mandate of our new four-year strategic plan. That plan says that we will consistently apply a racial equity lens to our internal operations and external work.

If you are not yet familiar with Juneteenth or the discussion of how companies and not-for-profits can utilize this holiday to move toward a society that is equitable for Black people, you may find this article helpful. It is written by Kiva Wilson and Dr. Evelyn Carter, two Black women whose careers have focused on helping build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. They recommend that the paid holiday be used as a “day on” – a time when employees can volunteer with organizations that focus on ending racism and anti-Blackness.

Juneteenth is a perfect time to reflect on the long journey to freedom and the ongoing nature of political struggle for human rights. After all, Juneteenth was not the definitive end to chattel slavery, but rather celebrates the date that Union General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, TX, that the Civil War was over and that enslaved African Americans were free. This came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but six months before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery.

This history reminds us that oppression is strong and mutates like cancer cells. Members of our staff have certainly seen this illustrated in a compelling way in Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America which we are reading and discussing together. We have two very new team members, and our “book club” is allowing us to build team cohesion in a time when COVID-19 prevents us from meeting face-to-face.

This week we were on chapter eight and saw how efforts by union leaders and Quakers to develop housing for Black auto workers were met by systemic barrier after systemic barrier. One of the questions we discussed was “how can we persist to outlast racism?” Some of our answers were:

  • good self-care
  • solidarity with calls to action declared by Black leaders
  • working in diverse coalitions, and
  • learning the rules thoroughly so that we can use them for justice where possible – since it’s clear our opponents know them and use them for injustice

We hope that you’ll consider our two current priority campaigns as potential Juneteenth “day on” activities, since both have profound racial justice implications:

  • We are taking action to secure a veto of Senate Substitute for Senate Bill 600 from Gov. Parson. This legislation increases mass incarceration, a virulent form of structural racism. Please consider sharing this graphic via social media and going to this link to send an email to Gov. Parson.

And

  • Please click here to remind Senators Blunt and Hawley that investments in struggling communities are needed at the present time. We need a new package of federal stimulus funds that includes a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits and $100 billion in emergency rental assistance.

Pro-justice decisions by the US Supreme Court this week on civil rights protections for LGBT employees and DREAMers as well as the persistent protests rolling across the nation since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police call us to reflect this Juneteenth: How long will it be until we all are truly free, safe, and able to thrive? Please join the Empower Missouri staff in reflecting on how we can outlast oppression, and take good care of yourself. Your voice is needed for justice!

In solidarity,

Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy & Organizing

P.S. We would also like to note that last week’s Weekly Perspective mentioned a list of eight policing reforms circulated by Campaign Zero. As we practice solidarity with Black-led organizations, we acknowledge that many justice workers are now moving past that list of demands to emphasize “8toabolition” instead. We agree that policing and prisons have not kept our communities safe, and we are studying this list carefully so that we can join in advocacy for the policy recommendations contained in it.

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