By King County Executive Dow Constantine; and Anita Whitfield, King County Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer
This year as we recognize Juneteenth, and honor the African-American community – those who are the descendants of enslaved people – upon whose backs this nation was built, we are also looking forward to celebrating Juneteenth 2022 – as the first time as a paid holiday for King County employees. Because of this the King County employee community and many others across the state will jointly recognize what Juneteenth has stood for in the African-American community for many years – the end of at least one form of oppression in America.
Recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday is a major step, but we also must recognize the historical truth of this day. While Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 and informed those still enslaved that slavery had ended more than 2 years prior, history shows that June 19th did not mark the actual end of slavery as it continued in some states after that. Still, in honor of the Black community, and their historic tradition, we continue to acknowledge June 19th as a day of remembrance and recognition of the actual end of legal slavery in America. In King County government we also mark this day as an important symbol of the ongoing fight for freedom and as one of many reminders of how far we have come, yet how far we still have to go to truly achieve a racially just America.
In King County, we are working in numerous ways to ensure that we are an anti-racist/pro-equity government – from transforming policing and the criminal legal system to making down-payments towards economic justice for the Black community and all historically oppressed people. In all areas, we are striving to listen to and co-create these changes with community, and we recognize that it will require not just changes around the edges, but true transformation at our core.
While we are working towards this future, we are taking action now.
Over the last few months, we have been working on the $630 million COVID emergency supplemental budget which the King County Council passed last month. These are funds that are being and will be used to keep people healthy and safe, and to continue getting people vaccinated. It combines federal funds secured by President Biden and this new Congress, with state and local monies available for pandemic recovery. We’ve included anti-racist/pro-equity investments like grants promoting digital equity, rebuilding Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-owned businesses most impacted by the pandemic, providing for much needed rental assistance, and much more. The investments proposed in this budget are another set of down payments on the critical issues faced by diverse communities in King County.
Throughout our work last year, we heard from an unprecedented number of community members and community-based organizations about ways to collaborate and co-create investments that can advance the truth – that government should be breaking down racial inequities. We’re putting $25 million behind that truth, and right now we’re preparing to partner with community to understand how that money can go to do the most good. Also, this month we launched a Community Investment Committee, beginning the process of participatory budgeting in the urban unincorporated areas of the County.
These investments, and the transformational work that must go along with them, are the next steps in our long-term work to upend centuries of racialized economic inequity by sharing power with community and acknowledge the brilliance and beauty therein. It is our shared honor to be servants of the African-American community and all historically marginalized and oppressed communities on Juneteenth and every day.
We seek an equitable King County, where every person can thrive.