Today is Juneteenth, and I urge you to stop for a moment and celebrate the end of legal slavery in the United States, the emancipation of our neighbors, and the victory of our country over the rebellious forces which threatened to tear it apart. Through great leadership, at great price and with tenacious hearts we kept our nation together and began the end of a terrible historical atrocity.
This is also a chance to recognize and repent that we so often move too slowly, resist the changes we need to make as a people and a society, and that we still have so far to go in realizing the full humanity and dignity of all people. If Juneteenth is new to you, it’s a celebration of the emancipation of the slaves, and a remembrance that freedom was ignored and resisted for years by some civil and State authorities after the Emancipation Proclamation. More can be found here Juneteenth.com, and across the internet with a simple search.
This year’s marking of Juneteenth is more meaningful for me as I was able on Monday to attend a screening of Emmanuel, a documentary movie about the nine lives ended in the hateful and racially motivated shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church four years ago to the day, in Charleston, SC. That was a difficult movie to watch, as the legacy of white supremacy and racial hatred was so clearly illustrated in the senseless murders and the face of a young man of our time, not any ancient past or even recent history. Our time.
The hatred, ignorance and racism which fueled the Emmanuel shootings should be a reminder to us that all too often words become wounds. The racism and white supremacist rhetoric we hear today across our country, online and sometimes from the highest levels of government must be unequivocally, vehemently and with all our strength rejected and repudiated. Until our courts are equitable in applying the law to all people, policing is no longer far more lethal and brutal towards our brown and black neighbors, and all people of our nation are free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let Juneteenth be a reminder that our work is not done.
And we can vote. The image to the right is of a button I made earlier this year as an exercise of empathy and reflection on privilege. It’s time to vote with our neighbor’s best interest in mind. We need to vote with empathy and a realization that political wins achieved at the expense of another’s civil liberties or freedoms is no win at all, but a loss for all. Let Juneteenth become part of your annual remembrance that we have begun the difficult work of equality, but still have so far to go. We can do this. We’ve shown what we are capable of, both good and evil. May we forge a future of greater hope and liberty for all.
“In 1838, the Jesuit priests who ran the country’s top Catholic university needed money to keep it alive. Now comes the task of making amends.”
By RACHEL L. SWARNS April 16, 2016
This is an important story for the Catholic Church, for Georgetown University and for our whole nation. Our deep historical sin of human trafficking, and the need to make amends for that sin, are not simply political or financial issues, they are the stories of fellow human beings with names and families that need to be told and owned by everyone in America, today. Even if you are not descended from human beings sold and exchanged as property, it is not so difficult to empathize and imagine the generational pain and impact of these kinds of wrongs in our history.
Today and tomorrow we need to be so much more aware of every person’s dignity, and also for yesterday, we need to be aware of a debt owed to those who carried more than their share of the cost at arriving where we are today as a nation. If first responders and soldiers are heroes for serving our country, and I believe that they are, then so also are the named and unnamed, remembered and forgotten slaves who toiled and served the economic engines at the birth of our nation. They may have not chosen their fate, but we can still honor their existence, repent the sins which enslaved them, and give them and their descendants their due. Honor them. Never forget them. Making amends is not about changing history, because that is something we cannot do. Making amends to them and to their families is about changing our now, and changing our future. That is something we can and must do.
This is an important story.