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Junteenth Speech

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

155 years ago today, marks the liberation of slaves who were declared free under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. While all those slaves were freed, on paper, almost 2 1/2 years earlier, fulfillment of the proclamation was slow. Many of us standing here today may feel similarly about our basic human rights. Fulfillment is slow.

While Juneteenth was first celebrated 155 years ago, many of us feel as if we are still slaves to the system. A system that perpetuates racism throughout our country. In many ways we are still slaves.

Whether it is the murder of George Floyd or so many others at the hands of those in authority, we are still slaves...

Whether it be entering a store while black only to be followed and ask to turn your backpack in while you shop, we are still slaves...

Whether being overlooked by a male colleague who is incompetent or has inferior work ethic to you, a female, we are still slaves...

Whether it be the comment from others about how “articulate” you are, we are still slaves…

Or when it is your son, who has been questioned by police on 6 different occasions while enjoying his hobby, comes home and asks, at 14 years old, “mom, is it because I am black?” And your heart breaks because you cannot assure him that it is not. We are still slaves...

We are slaves to a system that continues to make us wonder when we will feel equal, when we will be treated equally, and wonder when we will be able to say with certainty our lives do matter?

We are slaves to the systemic prejudices that metaphorically shackle us. We are slaves to being judged by the color of our skin. We are slaves to negative stereotypes. We are slaves to being prejudged because from the beginning we have been considered less than, not enough, not worthy and with lives that clearly do not matter.

These systemic problems that black people face are not unlike the problems that other members of society face. Other minorities, women, those with disabilities, and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters also feel limits and prejudices that are burdensome and prevent them from enjoying and living their best life.

Intersectionality—or in simple terms— recognizing how connected the things that we are labeled as are—such as race, class, gender identity—and that there is a larger “piece of the pie” that should guide our work towards promoting social equity and ideally right now, social justice for all is imperative. Coretta Scott King said, “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”

Many of us have shared our stories and experiences at the hands of racists and bigots. I will tell you that my experiences began when I was just 5 years old and continue right up until two weeks ago when I was called a “nigger,” while on a fun outing with my daughter. So when we chant Black Lives Matter, and some counter with “Why does it have to be about race?” Know that if I can be called a nigger in my community in 2020, it IS about race. Proclaiming that “All Lives Matter” is a way to circumvent the real issue that is plagued by a systemic problem that we must deal with that clearly sends a message to the black community that our lives are not as valuable as we assert “Black Lives Matter!”

I wanted to share with you a snippet of experiences that continue to fuel my frustration and at times deep sorrow and pain. But believe this, the sorrow and pain is not for me. I’m a big girl. I can shoulder the pain so long as sharing it will help create a better world for my children, particularly for my son, who while I know is ready to fly from the nest we call home, I cannot help but have a little fear in my heart for him.

But the last few weeks have provided hope. Despite the turmoil our country has seen in light of recent injustices, there is a hope that lies within my heart that at least I live in a community that is willing to continue to have conversations, no matter how difficult they may be and we will roll up our sleeves and really get to work.

Rest assured that I will do my part as a member of the local NAACP to facilitate that process.

Rest assured that this is what we as a community need.

Rest assured that the theme of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, “When we fight, we win,” holds true now more than ever.

So you may ask what you can do? This morning I was fortunate to speak to my sister, Tia, who lives in Tennessee. Tia told me, "We can’t change people’s hearts, we cannot stop some people from being hateful.” But she left me with this closing thought— when we witness acts of hatred,we must speak out. Because by not doing something, you are in fact doing something. You are, in effect, allowing injustices to happen. Speak out against social injustice. Do it often and not just when we are all together and everybody is watching---that is easy. Do it when no one is looking.

Thank you.

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