Dear members, partners, allies, and friends,
This Juneteenth finds many communities across much of the country embroiled in racial violence, conflict, tension, and oppression. Still. In 2023. Four hundred years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to our shores to build the backbone of a new colonial economy. One hundred and sixty years since the Emancipation Proclamation declared that “all persons held as slaves” within rebellious states “are, and henceforth shall be free.”
From the earliest celebrations of Juneteenth in 1866 through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow South to 2021 when President Biden declared a national holiday, Black people have celebrated and commemorated the day with faith gatherings, food festivals, parades, and arts and cultural events. But the intervening years were punctuated and pockmarked by more than 3,400 Black lynchings, Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the 1921 Tulsa race riot when White mobs brutally decimated the lives and thriving livelihoods of thousands of “Black Wall Street” residents, the deaths of civil rights martyrs from 1954 (Rev. George Lee) to 1968 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), the 1932-1972 Tuskegee Experiment, and the 2020 murder by white police of George Floyd. The breadth and depth of atrocities cannot adequately be catalogued here.
And so, we arrive to where we are today when probably every Black family with roots in this country can count at least one connection to a person whose life was discarded or disregarded due to the color of their skin. Today, when far too many white people – intentionally or inadvertently – are complacent regarding their legacy of bigotry, bias, and blindness when it comes to how Black people are treated.
Perhaps most startling and horrifying, so-called leaders from the community level to the high courts are endeavoring to eliminate our history, to negate our struggles, and to deny access to remedies – academic, economic, and civic – that would help to ensure equality if not equity. From banning curricula to perpetuating racial wage gaps to impeding access to the ballot, few if any areas of Black lives are not impacted by hate, prejudice, or ignorance.
Still, as hard as it can be some days, I am hopeful. I see and read about progress in the form of new philanthropic priorities, in the form of meaningful exploration into reparations, in the form of authentic diversity initiatives across the nonprofit and corporate sectors, in the form of book banning backlashes, in the form of advocating for fair labor practices and economic opportunities, and in the form of a collective undaunted national civic participation.
I believe there are far more people who think and feel like I do. I believe that the spotlight and megaphone provide disproportionate levels of oxygen to small and fearful minds. I believe that it is our right and our responsibility to shut down and shut out those who would tell us that one human being is less than another. And I believe that, together, we can navigate a roadmap to a place where, as Dr. King shared, we are not judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. After 400 years, this would be something truly worth celebrating.
Happy Juneteenth to you all.
LaShanda Akia Jackson
Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation
Funders’ Committee Action Fund