Honoring Juneteenth

 In RT Blog

Two years ago, something happened that made us stop talking about the global pandemic. Overnight, we went from focusing on whether to take the family trip, sanitizing groceries, and stocking up on toilet paper.

That something was a person. George Floyd

For reasons most of us will never understand, a police officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck, smirking, slowly killing him as bystanders stood, helpless. George Floyd called for his mother. And then he died. 

video was released – and the world reacted. After hundreds of years of brutal abuse, with systemic racism infiltrating everything from education and hiring to simple walks on the streets and driving, it was as if the rest of us who haven’t had to deal with it in our personal lives – finally woke up. For a few months, it was as if generations-worth of repressed feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and anger spilled out, finally released. There were protests and riots. There were united calls for change. Uncomfortable conversations were had. White people started looking inward, wondering, Am I actually racist? Huge and small companies alike made statements of antiracism. 

Two years later, despite the incredible #BlackLivesMatter movement, we wonder: What has changed?

Juneteenth is now a known entity and a Federal Holiday. Short for “June Nineteenth,” Juneteenth commemorates the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Many of us had never heard of it before until it was deemed a National Holiday in 2021. 

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of all three charges — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Vox states, “That’s rare in a system where it’s uncommon to prosecute police for killing someone, let alone convict them. For example, only seven police officers have been convicted of murder for police shootings since 2005. The law favors police — giving them latitude to use force — plus, Americans, including jurors, tend to trust police officers.” 

There has been some policy and police reform in the local, state, and national levels, but it’s still an ongoing fight. Efforts to reduce police misconduct and brutality often get mistaken for anti-police efforts, but if you look at this list of police reforms, there is some momentum.

Statues, buildings, and monuments with undercurrents of racism and controversy were either renamed or removed. Names of mascots and sports teams were changed. Confederate flags were removed or banned. Sadly, not everyone agreed with these changes. But the fact is – the changes were made anyway. 

In truth, none of these changes and actions on their own may mean much. But, we are hoping for an inside-out ripple effect. Many of us who never really thought much before about white privilege, now consider it and work the consideration into our daily lives. Our children are exposed to more diverse media and ideas, and they don’t blink when they see multi-racial couples in commercials. They may not understand why the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court was so monumental. 

We don’t want our country to be color-blind. We want to celebrate each other’s differences and to understand where we came from, what we went through. But we DO want our children to expect fairness. We DO want our children to expect equity. And we DO want our children to stand up for themselves and each other. 

As for Rowan Tree, we will continue to do our best. We continue our monthly, member-led Anti-Racism + Equity action meetings where we hold discussions and action-taking “power hours.” We will continue to offer our Cogrowth Membership Grants, which we provide to historically marginalized female identifying business owners who may have barriers to joining, helping us to create a more inclusive environment. We will continue to hire and feature women of color business owners in our panels. 

And, we will continue to work as partners with Network NoVA, whose mission is to connect with others in Virginia and beyond for the purpose of promoting the democratic values of equality, justice, and human rights. We recognize that we are in the long game to protect our democracy and freedoms. So much is on the line from racial and social justice, voting rights, women’s rights, LBGTQ+ rights, worker’s rights, climate change, defending public education, free speech, public safety, and protection from gun violence.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. 

So we need to keep working. Support Juneteenth and Black creators. Mention them when they aren’t there and elevate them on your platforms. Buy books that incorporate people of color. Educate yourself and your family by visiting a museum, reading, or watching. Go to a local event where YOU may be the minority so you can learn, experience, and listen. Keep your eyes on police reform policies. Let’s keep moving forward, together.

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