This week’s blog is written by Dion McGill, SCY Communications and Community Outreach Manager.
It would honestly feel disingenuous to write about anything other than Juneteenth. As I am writing this on Thursday evening, I will be taking tomorrow off to enjoy some of the festivities going on in the city, including a group bike ride with fellow nonprofit organization Think Outside Da block.
I can’t exactly remember the first time I heard of Juneteenth, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until college. I’m fairly certain that it was not a subject I learned about in elementary school, and I don’t ever recall it being a topic of discussion in any of my high school history classes. I then went on to achieve my degree in Social Sciences with a focus on history from Saint Xavier University. One of my favorite courses in undergrad was Civil War and Reconstruction. Though I cannot explicitly recall the discussion, I am certain that this was the first time I learned of Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day. As I’ve queried several of my friends and some of my colleagues, I’ve learned that I am not the only person who learned about Juneteenth relatively later in life, and I’m fairly certain that there are still people who will be learning about it for the first time today.
If you haven’t heard by now, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1965, the day when Union Army General George Granger (I must admit I had to look him up) announced federal orders in the city of Galveston Texas proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were now free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed nearly 2 and half years earlier, and the Civil War has ended for the most part around April, with Texas being fairly remote, word simply hadn’t traveled that far. It’s also important to note that while this technically emancipated all of the confederate slaves, it did not bring an official end to slavery. That wouldn’t happen for a few months yet, with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. And unfortunately, slavery gave way to the terror of Jim Crow, which morphed into a mass-incarceration system that we continue to struggle with to this day, which is why we’re proud of the work we do to minimize the further involvement of youth in the justice system through our Juvenile Justice Collaborative (JJC). If you’re not familiar with the work being done by the JJC and our partner organizations, please go take a look.
And I believe this is why, this year, in 2020, Juneteenth seems to have a completely different feel to it, and why it seems harder not to have heard of it by this point. Juneteenth highlights the fact that simply because something is “law”, does not mean that it is dispensed equally or equitably. As we’ve seen voices nationwide (and actually internationally) protest police brutality, racism, and white supremacy, we are reminded that not everyone receives equal protection under the law. As we look back at the murders of Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd…it becomes difficult to argue that we all live and maneuver through the same America…that we are all, in essence, emancipated.
And as we mentioned in the SCY newsletter, Chicago is definitely taking the time to celebrate Juneteenth to the fullest. Following the unrest we’ve seen over the past few weeks, coupled with the slow immersion of social interaction as we move into a new phase of COVID-19 response, a little celebration and jubilation feels needed.
As our Interim Executive Director Leslie Helmcamp said in this week’s letter,
“SCY looks forward to continuing to work with our partners to address the challenges that still exist while building a more equitable and inclusive city.”
I personally for years have fully held belief in the idea that Chicago has been a tale of two cities. It’s exciting to think that as we move ahead with more frank discussions, perhaps we’ll have a clearer picture as to what that more equitable and inclusive city looks like.
In closing, let me share with you today’s Google Doodle, illustrated by Los Angeles-based guest artist Loveis Wise and narrated by actor and activist LeVar Burton, as well, as a little background on the Doodle. Happy Juneteenth everyone.