Our Stories

What Does Juneteenth Mean to You?

Each month, we will pose a question to the OneLISC family, and share the responses reflecting our diverse range of voices and backgrounds. We hope these Reflections from the Field will be a source of inspiration and insight for us all. This inaugural month's question is:

What does Juneteenth mean to you, particularly in light of the events of the last two weeks, the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police, and the anti-racist protest movement that continues to evolve as part of the national outcry?



My paternal great-grandfather was born a slave.
Grandpa was a sharecropper who moved his family to Michigan.
Grandpa told dad about the lynchings he saw and warned dad to be careful.
Dad was an electrician.
He was pulled over for questioning – no traffic violation, no citation.
My brother, a white-collar professional, was pulled over and a gun pointed at his head. No traffic violation, no citation.
My son an Ivy League college and Ivy League law school graduate was forced to the ground face down for walking down the street in NYC while wearing an expensive suit.
My Black men, guilty of nothing, committed no crime.
Just being Black men.

Juneteenth 2020 – a recognition of the ending of slavery one hundred and fifty-five years ago.
George Floyd’s killing sparked something.
Is 2020 finally, finally the beginning of real steps toward meaningful change?
Will Black lives matter?
I hope so.

- Charlotte J. Smith, Deputy Director, LISC Michigan

 



 

Juneteenth was a promise that white people broke.

Reconstruction was a promise that white people broke.

Plessy v. Ferguson and “separate but equal” only pretended to be a promise from white people. And white people managed to break the pretend promise anyway.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, was a promise that white people broke. The Civil Rights Act was a promise that white people have broken.

In my studies of America’s actual history—not the whitewashed version presented to me as a white girl growing up in the Deep South—I have seen again and again and again, these broken promises, broken bodies, broken hearts.

Our education system, our health care, our housing policy, our justice system. The people entrusted “to protect and to serve.” All broken promises.

We owe so much. I just hope I can, in some tiny way, help us keep our promises this time.

— Patricia Luna, Lending Program Officer, LISC Atlanta

 



 

What is Juneteenth, I had no idea

Then, George Floyd was murdered, and it all became clear

157 years ago, slaves were freed

Emancipation Proclamation gave them some air to breathe

Waiting to exhale seemed like it would never come

Waiting they did and their freedom was won

Freedom, for some slaves, didn’t happen right away

Two years later, General Order Number 3, saved the day

You see, the people of Texas wanted to remain status quo

But the Executive of the US said to let them go

Freed slaves were encouraged to stay on the plantations

But this newly found freedom was a cause for celebration

Countless slaves were killed and countless were scattered

So, finding one’s family was all that mattered

Some relatives were found, and some were not

Freed slaves made the best of their lot

Juneteenth had become a historical day of celebration for the freed slave

Just as George Floyd’s life has become a day of reckoning from the grave

- Constance Wright, Senior Asset Analyst, National Equity Fund (NEF)

 

 



 

Juneteenth is a day that at once reminds me of a profound step in the slow march of progress, and the long unrelenting struggle to reach our destination. Today, amidst cries for justice, I feel like I'm forced to take stock of my life, my moral dialogue, my political and religious indoctrination, and even my subjugation to the persuasive forces of self-preservation. I've heard these cries - from injustices and for justice - from colleagues who I consider friends, and I hope their sentiments are amplified in all of our hearts and minds. Like that June day in 1865, lest we forget this moment that may alter the course of our future.

- Harry Gaggos, Senior Program Officer, LISC

 



 

Juneteenth started on June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved Black Americans in Texas were free, which was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. That was only 155 years ago. 155 years ago sounds like a long time ago, but in actuality, it is not. My grandmother turned 94 years old on June 8. She was born 61 years after the last Black slaves were free. I have never talked to her about this, but I am now wondering if her parents were slaves. If her parents were not slaves, her grandparents were definitely slaves. Just the thought of realizing that slavery is not that far removed from my bloodline is daunting.

Black people have been disrespected and treated unfairly ever since Europeans decided to go to Africa to capture Africans, and force them into slavery. The only thing that Black people have ever wanted was to be treated fairly, with respect, as equals with all of the other American citizens.

Unfortunately, 400 years later, that has not happened. Hate and violence against Black Americans has never ended. We have seen Black people beaten, lynched, and murdered by white men for years. Simply for being Black. This has made me question “Are Black people truly free?” The answer is no. Black people are still being beaten, still being lynched and still being murdered by white men. Black people are still being disrespected and accused of false allegations by white women. Black people cannot walk to the corner store safely. Black people cannot take a run. Black people cannot listen to music safely. Black people cannot sleep in their own homes safely.

So, what does Juneteenth mean to me at this very moment? Nothing. Black people are not enslaved, but we still are not free. There is so much work to do around racial equality and dismantling racial systems. Equal pay, equal lending practices for small minority business owners and homeowners, equal treatment when being seen by doctors and other medical professions, and most importantly, equal treatment when dealing with policing and the “justice” system.

Until that happens, Black people will never be free. Take the time to celebrate Juneteenth and how far Black people have come but also think about how far Black people have to go.

- Jessica Hinton, Program Assistant, LISC Detroit

 



 

I think anyone working on their white allyship has to look at Juneteenth and first acknowledge that we (1) live in a country built on the stolen labor of people of color and that we (2) to this day benefit from an economic system that oppresses. Further, I and other white allies have to use this moment of acknowledgement to move towards accountability to people of color and demand and actively participate in reparations. In my view, that’s opening our wallets and volunteering our time to strategically focus our resources in communities that are oppressed. I personally volunteer my time and donations to the Foundation for the Mid South, which makes investments in returning citizens in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. To this day, incarceration continues to be a new form of slavery of young men and women of color in the South. I encourage other allies to do the same.

- Justin Archer Burch, Senior Program Officer, Rural LISC

 



 

Juneteenth means turning hope and opposition of eliminating racism into reality.

Juneteenth is a celebration of my ancestors’ freedom. Unfortunately, that freedom came with a hefty price tag of racism. My skin color is a target and racists have declared it open season. You know the only difference between Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, me, and countless others is…..absolutely nothing! Am I next?

With that being said, Juneteenth is also a painful reminder that the marathon continues as we work to defeat the hurdles that extends our bondage.

I challenge all my white counterparts to answer this question:

Am I contributing to racism or actively working to eliminate racism? Because its one or the other.

"I’m on a path, got a purpose to reach a destination and either you’re helping or you’re in the way."  —Clifford Harris, Activist

- Alyssa Brown, Asset Manager, National Equity Fund (NEF)

 



 

Juneteenth is a uniquely American holiday. Much like July 4th, both holidays contain major narratives centered on individual freedom and the emancipation from oppression. What makes Juneteenth unique, however, is that it tells the story of the struggle in our country for Black liberation. That struggle continues to this day. It is my hope that more Americans – particularly white Americans – understand that they are active participants in the Juneteenth story, and that now is the time to join the struggle for racial and economic equity in our country.

- Adam Kent, Deputy Director, LISC DC

 



 

I didn’t know what Juneteenth was until watching an episode of "Atlanta" a couple years ago. As someone who considers themselves passionate about social and racial justice, I am sad that such an important event to many of my friends is not something we’ve learned about and celebrated in our classrooms, in our homes and in our workplaces. I look forward to celebrating it with you all for many years to come.

- Anonymous

 



 

Juneteenth is a day that reflects the triumphs of what it means to be American, and believe in the tenets of liberty and justice for all. American democracy is imperfect and continually evolving. It is reflective of those doing the work professionally and personally to build a more just and equitable society. We are at an exciting moment in our country where there is awakening in white America, and the need to understand racism at a deeper level. Black thought leaders, organizers, and civic leaders are being listened to and heard in more meaningful ways. There is a reconciliation happening with the slow speed of progress we’ve made toward racial equity in the past 155 years since June 19th, 1865. We need to work to sustain the sense of urgency we feel today to make significant investment in Black neighborhoods, and continue our fight towards liberty and justice for all.

- Beth Haskovec, Program Officer, LISC Milwaukee