Schools / Kids

South Orange-Maplewood Supt.: Let Us View Juneteenth As An ‘Intentional Conscious Moment of Reflection’

From Dr. Ronald Taylor:

Hello SOMSD Family,

Today, Friday, June 19, 2020, has come to be known as the unofficial holiday, Juneteenth.  Wikipedia defines Juneteenth as, ‘…an unofficial American holiday and an official Texas state holiday, celebrated annually on the 19th of June in the United States to commemorate Union army general Gordon Granger’s reading of federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, proclaiming all slaves in Texas were now free.”

Today in June of 2020, 155 years later, Juneteenth feels more relevant and recognized than at any other time in the 46 years that I have spent on this planet. Being a Black Man who attended a Historically Black College & University (HBCU), I of course have been aware of Juneteenth for many years. I have attended events and celebrations that commemorate what many call, ‘the 4th of July for Black Folks’. However this year it feels…different. I have seen Juneteenth discussed on major news networks and in the Wall Street Journal. I have seen countless social media posts and commentary about the historical importance.

The obvious question is why? Why is Juneteenth so prevalent in 2020? Is it because our normal rites of passage (culminating school activities, graduations, and promotional exercises), annual weekend vacation tracks to the shore and general seasonal distractions (the NBA championship and the heart of baseball season) are missing due to the COVID-19 Pandemic? Is it a response to the palpable passion felt from the peaceful protests that are in response to the endless, senseless cycle of what feels like daily viral videos that depict Black People being murdered as victims of racially charged violence or police brutality? Is it simply an election year and Juneteenth is a timely discussion point for politicians to argue? Is it that corporate America has latched on to this opportunity to find an allegiance to what is now (finally) widely viewed as a worthy and sympathetic cause?

Or…are people filled with an indescribable bubbling of energy, emotions and frustration from a combination of all of the aforementioned influences? Regardless, the purpose of this communique regarding the recognition of Juneteenth is to share that ‘this’ is not a distant history as many would have us believe. It is not hyperbolic when I say, though I type this as a Superintendent of Schools with a terminal degree from a well-known top tier institution of higher learning…in the midst of what many would consider a successful career so far, I have been called a nigger in my adult life. My family and I have had our car windows and the windows in our home broken because of the color of our skin. I have been racially profiled more times than I could begin to count. I have been pulled over while driving for very suspicious reasons. And my mom (like her mother, grandmother and siblings) picked cotton during her lifetime in the hot fields of South Georgia during her youth.

In reflecting on the meaning of Juneteenth, through my eyes…what is most important to remember is that this commemoration recognizes the historical fact that it was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation when White People in the state of Texas still ‘owned’ enslaved Africans as a normal part of life. While this event is historical of course, it does not mark the end of the brutalization of Black People in our country.

In fact, in late May/early June of 1921 (56 years later) in Tulsa Oklahoma, what has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history” the Tulsa Race Massacre (https://www.tulsahistory.org/exhibit/1921-tulsa-race-massacre/) took place. Reportedly, the wealthiest Black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street” was the target. It is estimated that more than 800 people were admitted to hospitals and as many as 6,000 black residents were interned at large facilities, many for several days.

‘Bloody Sunday’ (https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/15/us/1965-selma-to-montgomery-march-fast-facts/index.html) in Selma, Alabama was 44 years later. When a peaceful march to advocate for the voting rights for Black Americans reportedly resulted in 17 people being hospitalized and dozens more injured by police.  Now, 55 years later, in the year 2020 we have Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and…

As a community, let us agree to not allow Juneteenth to become a fad of the 2020 Pandemic or a tool of the 2020 election. Let’s agree to view it as an intentional conscious moment of reflection. A reflection of atrocities and triumph.  A reflection of how love, belief and spirit can successfully combat hate, fear and prejudice. Most importantly, let us agree that together we will build the history that our future will be proud to embrace.

Educationally yours

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor

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