I had considered myself an educated person of American history until this week, when I learned the history and meaningfulness of Juneteenth.
The new federal holiday — which was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate — commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
As President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law last week, he eloquently said Juneteenth is “a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take — what I’ve long called ‘America’s original sin.’”
It was a bipartisan decision borne out of the vision of 94-year-old Opal Lee, whom President Biden described as “a daughter of Texas [and] grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”
The last enslaved people were emancipated in Texas on June, 19, 1865 — a historic day on many levels. Juneteenth is a time to remember and celebrate that moment in our history.
Opal Lee’s effort proved that the power of perseverance and vision can drive change.
Ironically, another powerful, determined woman also made history last weekend.
I was invited to the opening of the new Southampton African American Museum, on the busy North Sea Road.
The journey to that day took 16 years of devoted, persistent pursuit and the catalyst behind its completion is Brenda Simmons, who worked tirelessly to see her dream come true.
The site of the museum was originally purchased for $10 by a descendant of slaves. The property was used as a barber shop and beauty salon in the 1950s and became a gathering place for the community.
Now, that space has been transformed into a different kind of gathering place, one for us all to learn about the journey from slavery.
As the president said at the bill signing, “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments of the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.” What powerful words!
With persistence and passion, Brenda Simmons and Opal Lee never lost sight of their missions and achieved their goals!
INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that, under the Juneteenth Economic Justice Plan, the city will promote the education and career success of Black and low-income students by providing over 2,800 four-year CUNY ACE model scholarships valued at $4,000 per year.
The investment will help cover gaps in financial aid, books, transportation and advising for eligible students and will help students gain technical skills, academic credit or paid internships, work experience, career preparation support and engagement with the community, and STEM-focused career placement opportunities.
“To begin to repair harms of the past, New York City is investing in the future and building generational wealth,” the mayor said.
Remembering and learning from past mistakes is what makes us take action so we don’t repeat those mistakes.
That’s why we are a great nation!