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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Juneteenth: A National Holiday Is Progress But The Business Is Unfinished

By Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, Washington’s 10th Congressional District

Over the past 246 years, our nation has taken steps forward and backward in our journey to truly becoming a more perfect union. Our work is far from complete, which is why taking the oath of office in January 2021 to uphold our constitution was about serving my country, my nation, and my community. To me – and to millions of my fellow Americans – Juneteenth 2022 is a momentous step forward. To finally have federal recognition of one of the most important parts of American history – both painful and hopeful, is meaningful to African-Americans and our allies. But we must ask ourselves what it means to be emancipated from enslavement when disparities exist in housing, education, life expectancy, wealth, incarceration, employment and economic opportunity.

Making history as the first African American Member of Congress from the Pacific Northwest makes me acutely aware of the challenges the Black community continues to face. Much of my federal work, and the meaningful investments and legislation that I support, is rooted in the lived experiences of my family and how I see us building a nation that is more safe, more just, and more secure for all.

While large strides have been made since the first Juneteenth in 1865, we must and can do more. As a leader and public official, it is my priority to support the African American community with meaningful investments and policies that address disparities and improve our quality of life. From police reform, to gun safety laws, to investing in affordable housing, fighting for voting rights, being part of the Black Maternal Health Care Caucus and the HBCU Caucus, I know that representation only matters if you are working for the communities you are part of. When we are investing trillion of dollars for clean water, internet access, roads/bridges, public transit and clean energy, I have a responsibility to help ensure that the African-American community has access to those jobs and any contracting opportunities for black owned businesses.

Juneteenth is not only the end of slavery and the start to true independence, but also a celebration of Black resilience, Black achievement, and progress. As an HBCU alumni, I know how meaningful it is that Vice President Kamala Harris is an HBCU graduate. I know what it means when I advocate for and secure funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which are now enjoying record breaking enrollment. As the daughter of a Black Army veteran from the Deep South, I know firsthand how important it is to secure and expand voting rights and to support the Black men and women who serve in our military. Supporting and uplifting the African American community is critical to the success of our democracy and our nation. African Americans in Washington, and across the country deserve to have their history recognized and acknowledged. Our history and the disparities we face should have been seen, heard and addressed long before the public and horrific murder of George Floyd and many others.

We have come a long way. Juneteenth and our progress so far, give recognition to the hard truths behind American history and should not be hidden as though it is something to fear. This state and federal holiday represents a small piece of securing racial equity for Black Americans in every part of our nation. Elevating Juneteenth to a national holiday, and bringing visibility to a celebration has been meaningful to communities across the country shows us what is possible. Unfinished business remains to ensure that all people have equal protection under the law and hope for the future.

This Juneteenth, let us celebrate the progress we’ve made and fully acknowledge that our journey is far from over.

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