Friday, March 24, 2023

'We ask for a mile, they give us an inch' : Community leaders speak out on Juneteenth

June 19, 2021
<p>The Rock on Farm Lane dawned other insignias like the Black Lives Matter fist. This represents not just people of color within the LGBTQ+ community, but also solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Photographed on  June 7, 2021.</p>

The Rock on Farm Lane dawned other insignias like the Black Lives Matter fist. This represents not just people of color within the LGBTQ+ community, but also solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Photographed on June 7, 2021.

On June 19, 1865, in Texas, General Gordon Granger read General Order Number 3.

It began with the following, "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."

Enslaved Black Americans were free, two-and-a-half years following the Emancipation Proclamation. The 13th Amendment abolishing enslavement was on its way to ratification.

On June 17, 2021, President Joseph Biden signed legislation into law establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a United States federal holiday commemorating Black liberation from enslavement.

"We ask for a mile and they give us an inch," media and information senior Kenny Franklin, who is the President of Michigan State University's Black Student Alliance, said. "Why are you trying to sweep under us by saying here, we are balancing the GOP with a federal holiday now?...It's performative."

Franklin said he didn't know about Juneteenth until he was in high school.

"They are trying to ban critical race theory in schools," he said. "I didn't know about Juneteenth until I was in high school. The new generation won't learn that history. They never learn about Black history."

MSU Black Student Alliance (BSA), Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS), MSU Black Alumni, Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and Black Faculty, Staff, Administrators Association have helped MSU in creating its first Juneteenth Celebration that will take place on June 19 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The event features student panelists, a call-to-action written by Franklin, live music, a DJ, a meet-and-greet, and food.

"I'll be talking about community, what can we do together as students, as peers this upcoming year because this is a transitional period for incoming freshmen and sophomores," Franklin said regarding his speech. "Students haven't experienced campus life, so I'll be talking about what's next."

Since May 21, The Rock on Farm Lane has been defaced six to seven times with the same message, “Boycott your DEI Training.”

Multiple student organizations have come together to protect the rock including MSU Alliance, TransAction MSU and BSA. These groups are also calling upon the university and President Samuel Stanley with the message, “STANLEY: SILENCE = COMPLICITY,” which was painted on the back of The Rock.


"How can we really say MSU pays attention to students' voices, especially marginalized communities, when we're not getting recognized for it?" Franklin said.


East Lansing City Councilmember Dana Watson said she has been celebrating Juneteenth for herself and her kids since she's been aware of celebrations in the City of Lansing.

"It's exciting to see where we're at with Juneteenth... because it seems for some time, we've celebrated as a smaller group, as our people, Black people, in the City of Lansing, so it's exciting to see Michigan State is doing something this year," she said.

"People aren't just talking about our Independence Day, which at some point, becomes white history when we're not talking about our Black history as well..." Watson said. "It's exciting to see where the Juneteenth celebrations are going, and you get that feeling as a Black person that we really do fit in. This isn't just about us separately celebrating and separately understanding our day of freedom, but also seeing entire cities celebrating the end of slavery."

Watson is a Health Educator in the Maternal Child Health Division at Ingham County Health Department, a Board Member of the Davies Project, and works in health and social justice Initiatives professionally.

She said part of being a health educator is being able to "advocate and understand that a person's health isn't just about going through the doors to see your doctor, but also their environment."

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"With the experience is racism and how that impacts our ability to be healthy, or have healthy families," Watson said. "I go out in the community and speak on the individual levels of things to do while acknowledging structural racism and how that impacts our health...It's important not just for us as Black people, but for our entire community that we work on the racism in housing."

The Davies Project supports families who have seriously ill children and get them to their doctor's appointments. Drivers are volunteers who will take families to their appointments and get them back home. They also support serve pregnant moms, moms with babies, and babies in the queue.

East Lansing City Councilmember and Human Rights Commission Chairperson Ron Bacon said his version of Juneteenth is celebrated on Aug. 8, which is the celebration of emancipation rooted in the history of the slave revolts in Haiti in 1791. Bacon's family is from Paducah, Kentucky.

"I'd love people to study and dig into there, there are many alternate dates and times around the country when emancipation is acknowledged or celebrated by region..." Bacon said. "There's a really rich history. What I don't want is an oversimplification that Juneteenth was Independence Day. That was a long, winding road. So, I want to acknowledge many other dates throughout time that maybe over many years, people discovered and were actualized with their own freedoms and being fully free. Full freedom is still being fought for right now, but to be free, was really complicated."

East Lansing has made a commitment to be an anti-racist city along with acknowledging racism as a public health crisis, Bacon said. The city has established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department, headed by Elaine Hardy, which will take effect on July 1.

"Under the Diversity and Inclusion Department as a whole, we realigned the city and are doing a complete cultural realignment, for all city staff around bias training and things along those lines," Bacon said. "We will be seeding our first in history, citizen-led, community-based Police Oversight Commission."

Bacon holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Sociology, and has a background in youth counseling and juvenile courts. He is also a coach for East Lansing varsity football.

"I think involvement in sports and arts tend to be diversionary activities versus the hardcore nature of corrections and police interactions," Bacon said. "So just trying to get things in place, making systems fair, making sure people have an opportunity if they have a misstep to reassess those decisions...not allowing one mistake or misstep to derail the rest of their lives."

Regarding what should be done now to meet goals of racial justice and equity, Bacon said, on the federal level, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act should be passed.

"The franchise of voting, which is the backbone of democracy, is under attack...," he said. "Voting is the first right in the United States and that's one of the first things that has to be defended. To defend democracy, it's a patriotic duty to defend voting, that's where I'd like to see a lot of the energy."


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