Juneteenth is the nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, which is recognized as June 19, 1865–the day that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally received word of the Emancipation Proclamation. The day is also sometimes called “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.” In Florida, enslaved people learned of emancipation on May 20, 1865, nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
But the ending of slavery did not end white supremacy and structural racism in the United States. In the more than 150 years since Juneteenth, Black leaders and organizations have been working tirelessly–and too often without support from white-dominated institutions and organizations–to build a more just, equitable society.
A more just future is within our reach. We envision communities that enjoy clean air, clean water, open space and parks, and the security of knowing that our planet can sustain us today and for future generations. We envision a democracy that we are proud of, in which all people have an opportunity to be part of choosing who will represent them and in which those representatives are accountable to all their constituents. Participating in our democracy should be easy and accessible. We envision a strong, powerful environmental movement that reflects the values, priorities, and leadership of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
This week the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed bills to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Those bills are on their way to the President’s desk and quite possibly will be signed into law before Saturday – just in time for Juneteenth.
While this legislation may feel like a sudden development, it has been years in the making and long overdue. The importance of the Black Lives Matter movement in this national moment of recognition cannot be overstated.
The Black Lives Matter movement calls for justice, not only for Black people who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement, but for education, fair services and wages, a healthy democracy, and environmental justice for Black communities.
Recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday comes at a time when the battles over voting rights and access to our democracy have been raging at the federal level, throughout the country, and in our own state legislature. Access to justice, freedom, and equality for communities of color has yet to be guaranteed. As an organization that prioritizes healthy communities and a fair democracy for everyone, we support the constitutional rights of people to peacefully protest, demonstrate, and assemble and we will continue the fight to build a more just, equitable, and sustainable future.
But today’s reality for Black, Brown, and other communities of color is that they are hit hardest by environmental crises like flooding, poor water quality, and pollution. NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) among dominant White communities has pushed waste and pollution into Black communities, for example. Studies have shown that 75% of waste facilities in the South are located in Black neighborhoods. Because fossil fuel-based power plants, dirty diesel buses, and other polluting facilities are predominantly located in Black and Brown communities, these communities face high levels of air pollution, heat, and resulting health problems. To justly transition Florida to clean energy, we must ensure that all communities have access to renewable energy resources like solar. They also need energy efficiency measures to lower utility bills. Many low-income communities live in homes with outdated appliances and fuel sources, in turn, driving up the cost of powering their homes.
Racial justice can also be met through conservation. People of color statistically have less access to public parks and the public health and economic boosts that they provide. A Trust for Public Land study found that parks serving primarily non-White populations are about 50% smaller than those parks that serve majority-White populations. Parks serving communities of color are also five times more crowded. FCV and FCV Education Fund advocate for healthy communities for everyone, including conserved lands where Floridians can play, exercise, relax, learn, and share with loved ones.
Non-profit organizations are not free from blame in discrimination and lack of diversity. According to the 2014 Green 2.0 report, people of color comprise 36% of the U.S. population but only account for 12% of the staff of environmental organizations.
Juneteenth is a day that honors Black freedom, resistance, and resilience. It centers the unique and important contribution of Black communities and individuals to the struggle for justice in the U.S. It is an opportunity to reflect on how systems that are failing communities of color are actually failing all of us. This Juneteenth is a rare moment for everyone to proclaim in one voice that Black Lives Matter and that we won’t tolerate anything less than justice for all our people.