Bob’s Blog: On Juneteenth – And Our Pitched Battle
Most of you have probably experienced the art form known as a “Diptych” – when the artist has managed to convey two different images from the very same artwork. We are very much in a Diptych moment on the matter of race and racism in America.
This was a powerful and reflective weekend for me personally and professionally. It was Father’s Day weekend, so fond memories of my loving father, Charles H. Ross, filled me with admiration, while bringing a new spin on fatherhood for me as a single parent – since my wife passed away last year from breast cancer. I have a much more profound and textured appreciation for single parents these days, be they single moms or single dads.
And then there was the celebration of Juneteenth, which just sprung out of the closet as an African American cultural celebration to become a national holiday. Thank you to President Biden for your leadership in helping to make this a reality for our nation.
The lightning bolt announcement of Juneteenth as a new federal holiday represents a powerful reminder of this nation’s moral stain of slavery. Juneteenth brings a celebratory moment to the end of America’s darkest chapter as a nation, a federal holiday assuring that at least once a year the nation recalls that black people in America were once in chains – and that we must continue to be vigilant and activist in pursuit of freedom and justice.
It is fair to observe that the combination of the racially disparate impact of Covid-19, combined with the law enforcement killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – and too many others – have converged to catalyze the most profound moment of racial awakening our nation has experienced in 50 years, since the Civil Rights movement. Juneteenth as a federal holiday serves as a capstone for this awakening.
But at the very same time, we have been recently subjugated to witnessing anti-Black hate, anti-Asian hate, anti-Queer & Trans hate, anti-migrant and asylum-seeker hate, state legislative bodies rolling back voter access and voting rights in droves, and a growing list of states limiting classroom education on race and racism in America.
So, what exactly is this moment for America: racial awakening or racial Armageddon?
I’m neither a historian, political scientist nor a political commentator. I’m happy to leave how the history books capture this moment for those who do this work for a living. But I will say, for those of us committed to racial equity and racial justice, we find ourselves in a pitched battle. A pastor of mine once defined the word faith as: “Do what ya gotta do and leave the rest up to the Lord.”
So, what exactly does “do what we gotta do” look like? This battle for achieving the “idea” of America – the inclusive, anti-racist, Beloved Community espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and John Lewis — is not engaged with assault weaponry. Rather, it must be waged with values, and tools – and love. What we learned in our recently completed and celebrated 10-year Building Healthy Communities campaign is that by centering the themes of agency – individual and collective power through community organizing – in a spirit of belonging and inclusion, leads to needed systems and policy change to advance wellness and justice. Our foundation learned this by trusting and leaning into the wisdom and experiences of those fighting health injustice and racial inequality closest to the ground, most proximate to the effects of racial injustice.
This, my friends, is the fight that we are in – a battle to end structural racism and advance a new narrative of belonging, inclusion, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of America as The Beloved Community. We must raise our game: personally, individually, organizationally, institutionally, and collectively. We will need to continue to be morally grounded, spiritually motivated, and strategically driven. This is no mere pilot project.
The reason our current-day America can simultaneously experience the celebration of the new Juneteenth national holiday, and a savage political assault of voting rights and voting access for people of color, is because this is precisely the battle before us. Our commitment is to invest in the agency-power-organizing of those “makers of Good Trouble” that John Lewis referred to – those closest to the fight for justice and The Beloved Community.
Here’s to Juneteenth – and the Makers of Good Trouble.
Dr. Bob Ross
President & CEO
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