Brooklyn Council Member Farah N. Louis last week joined her Council colleague Laurie A. Cumbo and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in hosting an inaugural youth Juneteenth “Cel-Liberation” Rally on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library.
The commemoration came on the heels of historic protests, police reforms and advancements towards racial justice.
Louis, the Haitian-American representative for the 45th Council District, said hundreds attended the event that was also organized by Snaps Media Group “to galvanize youth of all ages – the next generation of activists – into civic action.”
“Today, we remembered our past, reflected on our present-day struggles for equality and justice; and renewed our commitment to fight for a better future,” said Louis, co-chair of the City Council’s Women’s Caucus and vice co-chair of the Black, Latino/a, and Asian Caucus. “This year, as Black stories and voices are amplified across the globe, the historical significance of Juneteenth can no longer be denied.
“In the City and State of New York, Juneteenth has finally been designated as an official holiday,” added the daughter of Haitian immigrants. “We have witnessed the Black community receive disparate treatment across the board – in police violence, food access, healthcare, and widespread injustice.
“Today, we came together and showed them the resilience, courage, and persistence the Black community maintains in the face of systemic racism,” Louis continued. “I hope that our young people are empowered with a sense of cultural pride and determination to continue pushing for racial equality.”
Adams noted that 150 years ago in Galveston, Tx, Union Army General Gordon Granger announced Federal orders proclaiming all slaves in Texas to be free.
“For 155 years, our Black community has celebrated this day as a marker of our emancipation from the shackles of slavery,” he said. “This year, we mark this solemn occasion in the midst of a nationwide reckoning about racial inequity in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color.
“Today, I am so proud that the city where I was born and raised, home to America’s largest Black population, has declared that Juneteenth will be an official government and school holiday going forward,” Adams added. “I thank Council Majority Leader Cumbo and Council Member Louis for holding this important event. In spite of the challenges we continue to face as a community, we will remain resilient and united.”
Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo said on the 155th anniversary of this holiday, “the words of James Baldwin continue to resonate with us, ‘Freedom is not something that anybody can be given, freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.’
“This year of 2020 is time for us to TAKE BACK the narrative!” she said. “This is not merely a legislative, or economic taking back. This is a cultural change – one where our society glorifies Black joy with the same energy it has silenced our suffering.”
Cumbo said 155 years is “a long time, and we are stronger, smarter, and more prepared than ever before to organize and to demand the changes we wish to see.
“But today, we will celebrate all of our accomplishments, despite the perpetuation of systemic racism,” she said. “Onward. There is still work to be done.”
Courtney Nelson, owner and founder, Snaps Media Group, said Juneteenth 2020 emphasizes education and achievement.
“On this day, we decided to uplift our youth in the midst of adversities,” he said. “We used today to reflect and rejoice. It’s also time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.
“With Juneteenth’s growing popularity, it signifies a level of maturity and dignity, that’s long overdue in America,” Nelson added. “I’m proud to be a part of these historic times and proudly stand with my community for the betterment of it.”
With the fiscal year 2021 budget deadline looming and the uncertain future of New York City youth during the summer months, Louis said many called for the reinstatement of City funding that was cut from the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) earlier this year.
She said the coalition of youth, community leaders and advocates demanded an end to the divestment of resources from Black communities.
“While commemorating Juneteeth, let us remember to keep advocating to ensure the City invests in our future – the youth!” said Shanduke McPhatter, founder, Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes, Inc. (G-MACC). “We have to talk about the detrimental impact of defunding the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Initiatives such as this help to keep youth engaged and off of the streets.
“When youth are employed, they are less likely to become a victim of or the person responsible for gun violence. I know the implications of not having meaningful resources as a youth firsthand,” McPhatter added. “At the age of 16, I became a product of the school-to-prison pipeline. Through G-MACC, Inc., I am working to stop youth from experiencing what me and so many others have gone through. We have to remember in this fight, if we are talking about doing anything other than securing funding for jobs and education then we are playing games.”