Juneteenth and the Road Ahead

‘Nobody is free until everybody is free’ — Fannie Lou Hamer

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. June 19th commemorates this very day in 1865, when federal troops arrived in Texas to ensure that all enslaved African Americans were freed. This came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which formally freed all enslaved people after the American Civil War. Juneteenth reminds us that for more than two years, enslaved African Americans in Texas were not granted the freedom they were promised by our government.

Today is a reminder that freedom in our country has not been granted equally. It is a reminder of the ways in which the laws and policies in our country do not address systems of power and white supremacy. It is a reminder of the work we have yet to do ensure that freedom and justice are afforded to all people.

The work of our coalition partners’ is centered on the quality of life, chances in life, and prospects for upward mobility of people in poverty, many of whom are people of color. Recent events challenge all of us to examine whether we can do more or work differently to shift inequitable systems, comparable to the important differences we make in individual lives. As leaders in the human service sector, our racial justice work cannot begin and end with a statement of solidarity — it must continue through reflection and tangible action.

This work is both vulnerable and essential. It requires us to reflect on what will not only make us more equitable internally, but more effective in fulfilling the missions of our organizations. I hope that by honestly sharing some of this work that Illinois Partners is confronting — both internally and through our advocacy — we can open the door for continued conversation.

Reflective work on equity as an organization

We have made Juneteenth an official paid holiday for Illinois Partners: This is a small and initial first step that we have taken to create a more inclusive environment in our organization.

We are holding a weekly staff meeting dedicated to reflecting on anti-racist readings and interviews: As a majority white staff, we have started by reading White Fragility and watching this interview with the author. We have built these meetings into our regular work hours to prioritize anti-racism as essential to living out our mission and vision.

We are confronting our workplace culture and building equity into our budget: I am asking myself hard questions and confronting my implicit bias as a white leader of a nonprofit. Why is Illinois Partners a majority white staff? How did we evolve in the organization we are today? What structures need to be put in place to ensure we are creating an inclusive and equitable work environment? What investments need to be made to make this a reality? This is the beginning of a long overdue reflection, that will take transformative action and investment over time. If these are some of the questions you’re asking yourself as well, the Morten Group is an incredible resource.

Policy, Advocacy and Research

Black Census Day: We know the Census has a long history of under counting black people. From originally only counting black people as 3/5ths of a person, to historically under-investing in black communities, our census work must acknowledge the systemic racism of our institutions. We join with our partners and advocates to amplify the work of Black Census Day, while highlighting the importance of investing in black communities.

Fair Tax: The tax burden in our state falls disproportionately on folks who have been systemically left out of our economy through redlining, a lack of access to quality education, and in turn, generational wealth. This disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities in Illinois. As human service leaders, putting our mission into action requires us to look beyond our own organizational self-interest, and do what is best for our clients and communities. In voting yes for the Fair Tax, we can reduce the economic inequality that is baked in our tax system, while bringing an additional $3 billion dollars of revenue to fund essential services.

Intersectional Data Collection and Research: Illinois Partners has a great deal of work to do to develop our research in a way that presents data disaggregated by race, gender, and many other factors. As we listen and learn from our coalition partners, we will be creating a research strategy in the upcoming year that puts intersectionality at the center of our data collection.

Leadership resources and personal reflections

There are many resource lists circulating that I have found to be helpful: 50 Actions your organization can take after posting about BLM, as well as Anti-racism reading lists.

But even more important for me has been to reflect on my own privilege and the way it affects my work. The author Ann Friedman recently shared in a weekly newsletter how she is sustaining anti-racism work in her own life. She put forth the following questions

1) What resources do I have to contribute?

2) Who is accountable to me, and who am I accountable to?

3) What institutions am I invested in, and how can I change them from within?

4) Who am I amplifying, week in and week out?

Answering these questions for myself has helped me both reflect on my privilege, while putting anti-racism into action. I hope they are helpful for you as well.