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Michigan United celebrates Juneteenth holiday with Black liberation summit

African-American Leadership Council’s online workshops chart path to true freedom

The newly recognized Juneteenth national holiday is mistakenly thought by some to be the day that American slaves were freed. More accurately, June 19th 1865 was the day the last enslaved descendants of Africans were freed from bondage in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Michigan United marked the anniversary with an online event titled “The Journey to Liberation through Justice” organized by their African American Leadership Council.

The affinity group, made up of Black members and organizers to center Black voices in the pursuit of social justice, wanted to celebrate the end chattel slavery but still recognize that true liberation for African Americans has still yet to be achieved. Following the Civil War, plantations were replaced with chain gangs, Freemen elected to congress during Reconstruction were undermined with Jim Crow laws and the promise of 40 acres and a mule, let alone any kind of reparations, has yet to be realized.

“I’m afraid that Juneteenth will be used, not to critique race theory, but to follow the bad narrative that we live in a post-racial society,” said keynote speaker Rev. William Flippin, Jr., the Lutheran pastor, social activist, and political commentator who was instrumental in Georgia’s voter turnout in 2020. “A holiday doesn’t reverse redlining, doesn’t restore voting rights, doesn’t end police brutality, doesn’t stop anti-blackness or institutional racism, doesn’t redistribute stolen income, doesn’t redress the brutal institution that raped our mothers, tortured our fathers and separated our families like cattle.”

Marvin Rudolph also gave a master class on political education. The President of ONYX Communications helped turn out the Black vote in Alabama to elect Doug Jones Senator last year. While he acknowledged that the majority of white people supported Donald Trump and his racist policies, he reminded everyone that they were still in the minority. The majority is made up of a coalition of Black, Hispanic, Asia American/Pacific Islander and progressive white folks. “When these four groups are lifting together instead of fighting for crumbs at the bottom of the table, we can pick the table up, carry it anywhere we want…” said Rudolph.

The webinar featured separate workshops examining different aspects of Black liberation: dismantling voter suppression, reparations, building Black power within the immigrant community, reimaging public safety, criminal justice reform and fighting racial disparities in health outcomes.

“In order to eliminate medical apartheid, we must reimagine healthcare and create radical partnerships between the medical and non-medical community,” said Dr. Ijeoma Nnodim Opara, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine & Pediatrics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. “The Justice Circles of Healing Between The Lines is an example of the kind of radical partnerships that center the voices and perspectives of Black people,” said Opara. “By centering Black people in healthcare, medicine, and medical Education, we can start to build a revolutionary model of health where our communities prosper and thrive.”

Another workshop explored the pursuit of reparations, focusing on HR40, a bill sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX 18) that is routinely brought up every year but never brought to the floor for a vote. HR40 isn’t aimed at compensating any descendents of enslaved Africans in America but simply to form an exploratory committee to examine how that could be done. “America can never truly compensate our people who were formerly enslaved nor their immediate or extended families. The institutional racism inherent in most systems in our country's early years flourished off of the back of our enslaved ancestors,” said Community activist Rodd Monts, who led the conversation. ”White Americans not only profited from this, but over time, built wealth and enjoyed privileges which their progeny continue to benefit from. While I support the movement, I believe that rather than seek reparations, we need to find a means of taxing white privilege.”

"The end of slavery also meant the beginning of an incarceration system that has affected many millions of families in the generations since,” said Janos Marton, National Director of Dream Corps JUSTICE. “We're gathering today to honor the legacy of Juneteenth by demanding criminal justice reform, and transforming the legal system both here in Michigan and across the United States,” Marton said in the workshop that examined proposed “Good Time” legislation that could dramatically reduce sentences and the prison population.

Another workshop invited participants to re-imagine what public safety could look like with Dr. Lorenzo M. Boyd, a professor at the University of New Haven who had earlier spoken at length on the topic. It brought together University of Michigan’s Chief of Police, Bob Neumann and Delisha Upshaw, of the Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives who said “Truly reimagining public safety begins with the right kind of conversation. We should be discussing policies instead of people and personalities; relying on data instead of divisive rhetoric; and prioritizing conversation with those in our community who feel unsafe rather than campaigning to convince the broader community that all is well.”

“To achieve our vision of being a true safety resource for all, we in law enforcement must be willing to continuously, and actively, listen, learn, and innovate,” said Neumann.

Immigrants from across the African diaspora came together to share their perspectives and find ways that they can build the political power they need to serve their communities. “For us to be successful in what we do, we have to collaborate with like minded organizations that have been doing the work for a long time,” said Sophia Chue, Executive Director, Caribbean Community Service Center. “Whether we are African or African American or Afro-Caribbean, the root is still the same.”

In the voter suppression workshop titled Fighting the New Jim Crow, Michigan state Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) took aim at a package of bills moving through her chamber. “We know that representation matters,” said Geiss. “When my colleagues in the state Senate and in legislative spaces in 47 other states put up bills that are designed, bit by bit by bit, to weaken our ability to have a say in who is our collective voice in government, you know I have a problem with that.” She encourages all Michigan residents to stay involved in the process by visiting to monitor committees and the bills they put up for votes.

“It’s also important, while we’re opposing things, to also state what we’re for and what we want and how we’re going to move forward,” said Aghogho Edevbie, Michigan State Director of the group All Voting is Local. to take what has been a negative experience and turn it into something good.” At the federal level, he encourages everyone to pressure their representatives to support HR1, a nation voting rights act that would set a baseline for the way all elections are conducted. At the state level, All Voting Is Local has a set of policy initiatives that would strengthen voting rights in five key areas:

1. Provide additional voting options before Election Day to support equitable access to the ballot and alleviate stress on local clerks.

2. Extend the ballot counting and processing period at least 14 days before Election Day.

3. Provide funding to local clerks through consistent standards to effectively serve voters.

4. Support poll worker recruitment by providing additional tools for local clerks.

5. Protect and expand ballot drop box accessibility, and set uniform standards for their use.

Edevbie would like to see everyone sign their petition encouraging state lawmakers to adopt these measures.

The online event was followed the next day with an in-person cookout at Inkster park. The heavy topics they faced were replaced with food, games and music. The National Guard was there to provide Covid vaccinations and testing for everyone.

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