A new spirit

6/18/2020, 6 p.m.
Happy Juneteenth!

Happy Juneteenth!

While we have celebrated Juneteenth in the past, largely through the annual programs put on by Janine Bell and the Elegba Folklore Society in Richmond, this year is a lot different.

The state of Virginia is joining the June 19 celebration with a paid holiday for most state employees. It’s the first step toward legislatively making Juneteenth an official holiday in the Commonwealth, according to Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who also called it “one step toward reconciliation.”

Mayor Levar M. Stoney followed with a paid holiday June 19 for all City of Richmond employees.

But more than that, a new spirit of freedom and liberation is sweeping our city, state and nation as the statues of Confederates, Columbus and other white supremacists are coming down — all symbols of racial and ethnic hatred and oppression that have long weighed down African-Americans, indigenous people and other people of conscience.

With the death of George Floyd, people of all colors are joining African-Americans to say enough is enough — of police violence and abuse against the unarmed and those experiencing mental health crises; of racist practices and policies that have resulted in young people of color being drowned in the school-to-prison pipeline; of inequities that have filled our courts and prisons with disproportionate numbers of people of color; of racist redlining and targeting that have denied African-Americans and people of color opportunities for education, jobs and homeownership; and of biased treatment in health care leading to high maternal and neonatal mortality rates and disproportionate rates of disease in communities of color.

Enough is enough.

Even the United Nations Human Rights Council has gotten involved. On Wednesday, the council held an urgent meeting to consider a resolution introduced by the 54 nations of Africa mandating an independent international inquiry into police brutality and structural racism in the United States and other parts of the world. In addition to investigating the murders of Mr. Floyd and many other African-Americans at the hands of police, the commission also would examine excessive force used against peaceful protesters, bystanders and journalists by local, state and federal law enforcement.

The importance of this moment in Virginia and around the nation cannot be overstated or ignored. But we cannot have its significance to be lost in simple holiday jubilation.

Our city, our state, our nation are at a turning point. The work of reform is just beginning. We have to work diligently, persistently and creatively to create systems of policing, education, government, health care, business and justice that respect and value all human beings. We have to carve out solutions that will bring about the fair, just and equitable systems that all people want and deserve.

Toppling a statue of Jefferson Davis is easy. Dismantling oppressive systems that have been in operation for centuries is harder.

With this new spirit and a commitment to what is right, we can all work to get it done.