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A MESSAGE ABOUT JUNETEENTH

For African Americans, Juneteenth has been long celebrated as a pivotal point in American history. With Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent Executive Order declaring today, June 19, 2020, a state holiday, New Yorkers as a collective can contextualize the meaning of why so many celebrate annually.

When slavery was immediately abolished in most Confederate states by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it would be some two and half years later, on June 19, 1865, before slaves in Galveston, Texas would learn of their freedom with the enforcement of the Proclamation by a Union General.

Now, 155 years later, the memories of those slaves—who for more than two additional years— continued to toil under the whips of their slave masters, are being especially heralded in the wake of what has become a global ‘awakening’ to the perils of racism and police brutality following the homicide of George Floyd, which played out publicly around the world.

As the world stands ready for a monumental 21st century shift in a movement against hate, racism, and inequity, the formal acknowledgment of Governor Cuomo’s declaration is an essential step to assuring that black history is counted as a considerable part of American history. With the Governor’s efforts, we can be hopeful that the full passage of Juneteenth as a state holiday for 2021 becomes a reality.

The civil rights movement reached a crescendo in the 1960s as horrific acts of overt violence and racist behaviors aimed at blacks proliferated. Blacks lived under fear and constant threats of local segregation rules including Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, lynching, voter suppression, redlining, and other xenophobic acts, many of which we still face nearly 60 years later.

The promise of freedom has never been fully realized in the United States—especially for blacks and other marginalized communities. This is the premise that groups such as Black Lives Matter and others were founded upon and have rallied and protested to highlight.

Juneteenth celebrations give us the chance to reflect, commemorate, and honor the lost lives of the hundreds of thousands of slaves and the lives of children who were sold, thus creating the horrific legacy of broken black families.

May we all reflect on, and be hopeful for the numerous changes necessary for equality, the eradication of racism, and the strength we will need to meet the enormous challenges ahead.