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Juneteenth and Social Progress: A Message from the VP for Diversity and Inclusion

June 19, 2020

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Following is a message Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Natasha Martin sent to SU faculty, staff and students today.

Dear Seattle University Community,

1619.   January 1, 1863.   June 19, 1865.  

During this profound moment in our history as a nation and a university, it is important that we take note of the significance of these dates. Each represents important markers in our country’s racist history as it relates to the enslavement and systematic oppression of Black people. And, the enduring and material effects of slavery’s legacy that continue to plague our society are deeply ingrained. For weeks we have been reminded, yet again, just how much so.  

1619.  The year the first stolen African people arrived on the shores of this country in what is now Virginia and began what would become a nearly 245-year brutal era of slavery and trading of people of African descent.

January 1, 1863. The effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation declaring the freedom of all enslaved African Americans which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War. 

June 19, 1865. The day enslaved African Americans in Texas were informed by Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas that the Civil War was over and that they were free people. This was more than 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. The following year, the first celebration of freedom took place in Texas organized by those formerly enslaved.

Juneteenth represents the oldest commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, specifically in the Confederate states. In 1980, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth a holiday, and currently 46 other states and the District of Columbia recognize it as a holiday. Juneteenth, also referred to as Freedom Day and Jubilee Day to name a few, was framed by Black communities in the south and then across the nation as a day of empowerment and celebration of culture and accomplishment. While nearly all 50 states acknowledge Juneteenth as a state holiday, it is not yet a nationally recognized holiday, although there are reported efforts underway including a bill put forward today by a bipartisan group of U. S. Senators.

I grew up in Texas and spent each summer celebrating Juneteenth. I have fond memories of family gatherings filled with fellowship, laughter, music, and yes, stories – stories that my grandparents would share about the struggles and triumphs of Black people. One of our favorite family tales is how my grandfather converted his pickup truck into a school bus outfitting it with benches and a cover that he made. And, scheduling a couple of runs a day, he drove all the Black children who lived in the surrounding rural area to school when the small central Texas town refused to provide bus service to the all-Black high school. These and other stories of how Black people have remained resilient in the face of discrimination and oppression continue to inspire me. 

Last Friday, we joined in the Black Lives Matter of Seattle’s general strike and day of action to share in solidarity. Today, as we acknowledge Juneteenth, and the freedom it represents, let us recommit ourselves to action to eradicate systemic racism at our university, in our families, in our communities, and beyond. I encourage your engagement and I invite you to reflect upon the ways in which we are all touched by the legacy of slavery in our personal and professional lives. This moment signifies our shared history – Black history matters for all of us – the story of how America developed, prospered and created an imperfect union, one that continues to bear fruit in complex ways.

As we work to advance more equity and justice throughout all dimensions of the university, one foundational step we can each take is educating ourselves on the history of slavery and the experiences of Black people in our nation. Black history in the United States remains distorted and incomplete. We must fill in the gaps of understanding and become ever present to the fact that there is much to mourn, and also much to celebrate in terms of the contributions that Black people have made to build and sustain this country’s infrastructure, industrial capacity, intellect, and beauty. I offer two of many sources for deepening knowledge around the narrative of slavery -- 1619 Project, The New York Times Magazine, with introduction by Nikole Hannah-Jones, and on the meaning of Juneteenth from a PBS special, hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. -- Many Rivers to Cross, along with a catalogue of black history video content. I have also included some additional viewing options below.

Finally, while I sit at the intersection of pain and possibility at this time, it is important to highlight rays of hope in the journey toward justice – two decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in one week! Decisions that recognize that democracy matters as we pursue justice on behalf of individuals with status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect against deportation, and to extend rights to LGBTQ+ individuals against discrimination in employment under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a legal scholar and professor, I have taught Employment Discrimination at SU for years, guiding my students through this law, witnessing their confusion of this notable gap, and facilitating their learning on what informs interpretive rulemaking by the courts — that it is often historically, culturally, and socially contingent. Thus, the significance of this moment cannot be understated. I am reminded of Dr. King’s statement – “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The bow just became more pronounced. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to share with future students that the current protests and actions ushered in reforms and new laws that recognized the dignity of Black and brown lives, and others at various intersections and margins.

Here’s to the liberation of all marginalized peoples and the eradication of anti-Black systemic racism. Let us continue to listen, learn, and yes, love furiously.

In solidarity,

Natasha T. Martin, J.D.
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

Additional Juneteenth related resources and opportunities for engagement (curated in collaboration with colleagues in Human Resources who wished to contribute in this way):

Juneteenth Freedom March & People’s Assembly here
(Including a teach-in, march, performances, and more)
Friday, June 19th
Starts on 22nd & Madison @ 2 PM
More information here 

Juneteenth March for Justice & Equality
Friday, June 19th
10 AM – 2 PM at West Woodland Park Playground (North 59th Street & Phinney Ave N)

Juneteenth Picnic and Outdoor Activities
Starts at 12 PM
Shore View Park
700 NW Innis Arden Way
Shoreline, WA 98133
Presented by Black Lives Matter Shoreline

Juneteenth Rally for Equity
Friday, June 19th at 5 PM
Issaquah City Hall

A list of other events happening in and around Seattle, which can be found here: https://www.thestranger.com/things-to-do/2020/06/16/43914578/your-guide-to-juneteenth-2020-events-in-seattle 

Some virtual opportunities:
Virtual book fair at Detroit Book City
http://detroitbookcity.com/

Juneteenth Lunch & Learn
https://www.facebook.com/events/262320261716480/
Facebook

Juneteenth Week 2020 events on Facebook. More info can be found here:
https://everout.thestranger.com/events/juneteenth-week-2020/e28184/
Facebook

Just a sampling of things to watch:
Blackish season 4 episode 1 “Juneteenth” (on Hulu)

The just-released movie Miss Juneteenth.
Go here for viewing information.

13th, produced by Ava DuVernay, this documentary chronicles the 13th Amendment which officially abolished slavery, and its connection to racial inequality and the incarceration of African Americans, is now free for non-subscribers to watch on Netflix.

Warner Bros. is streaming Just Mercy free for the month of June; visit justmercyfilm.com for a list of streaming locations

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