As State Rep. Toni Walker gave her speech on the floor of the House, her pain and exhaustion were evident. Her words in support of establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday were a measured yet powerful declaration of the need to acknowledge our history.
We have learned much over the last two years – the importance of health, the blessing of loved ones, and the value of life. We have been forced to confront the devastating effects of a pandemic and have been reminded of the painful ways in which racism continues to impact this country. As people took to the streets, posted on social media and made headlines, the message was clear: Change can no longer wait.
In 2003 the General Assembly voted unanimously to require the governor to proclaim the Saturday that is closest to June 19 of each year to be Juneteenth Independence Day in recognition of the formal emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
While recognizing this holiday in this way was a positive measure, it was not enough. As author Meredith Walters wrote, “Sometimes ‘sorry’ is not enough. Sometimes you actually have to change.” Change begins with acknowledgment.
The contributions of enslaved people in the United States are known by some, but not all, as was made clear by the comments of a minority of Rep. Walker’s colleagues. Black Americans would love to set aside race, but we are reminded of it daily as we strive to overcome the centuries of policies that minimized our humanity. Black Americans built this country through blood, sweat and tears and in return were denied equity in education, healthcare, housing, and justice.
Juneteenth is more than a state holiday. It is a recognition of a people’s ability to rise above centuries of discrimination and disparity, as well as an acknowledgment that the struggle endures. As a Black woman who was raised, raised my children, and built two businesses in this state, I believe Connecticut is working towards inclusivity. Because of Rep. Walker and the colleagues who stood with her, embraced her, and affirmed her truth, I remain hopeful.