By King County Executive Dow Constantine
This year King County will recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for the first time for our 16,000 employees. It’s my hope that each of us will use the time to acknowledge the continuing struggle for racial justice in our nation, and our continued work to build an anti-racist and pro-equity regional government.
Making Juneteenth an official holiday affords all our employees a chance to honor the immense contributions of Black and African Americans to the history and culture of our nation and region, and to further understand our nation’s history of racial injustice, and reaffirm our commitment to building a racially-just future.
Juneteenth also gives King County employees an opportunity to reflect on how we can sharpen our focus and commitment to undo institutionalized racist practices and policies, especially those that harm Black communities.
Our Office of Equity and Social Justice is working with our departments and staff to ensure that equity and racial justice isn’t an afterthought or a checkbox – rather it is at the center of everything we do as an enterprise. And at the same time, we’re driving equity forward directly in the community through investments in the community.
For example, over the last year the County has allocated nearly $7 million in grants to address the disproportionally harmful impacts of COVID-19 to those most harmed by systemic racism. Those grants are advancing digital equity, supporting the Coalition Against Hate and Bias that is serving communities impacted by hate and bias incidents, and partnering with community-based organizations and community media entities to better reach diverse communities in King County. These funds are increasing language access and advancing disability equity in King County government. We are also working with community to co-create how to utilize a $25 million fund, all towards becoming a pro-equity and anti-racist government that invests in community as one way of addressing the public health crisis that is racism.
Our government recognizes that racial injustice, inequality, and race-based violence remain deeply embedded in American society – a fact many Black Americans have known, lived, and still experience today. This reality will not change overnight, but these investments are first steps in a long journey toward a future free of racism, violence and hate.
In King County, Juneteenth will be a day of celebration, as well as a day of service, learning, and action. Juneteenth is an important symbol of the ongoing fight for freedom – as one reminder of how far we have come, and how far we still have to go to truly achieve a racially just America.