As some of you are likely observing for the first time, today is Juneteenth, which Black communities have long celebrated as the day the last slaves learned that they were free, in 1865, two long years after the Emancipation Proclamation (and two months after the end of the Civil War). This year, Juneteenth comes amid a national uprising against police violence and systemic racism unlike any time in decades.
In the middle of a pandemic that has ravaged communities of color, an economic crisis that compounds the long-standing racial wealth gap, and a vibrant movement for justice in the streets, there’s reason to be simultaneously both more optimistic and more anxious.
After Juneteenth, Emancipation moved so-briefly into Reconstruction, but then into brutal racist retrenchment. The 14th Amendment, reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence’s bold but poisoned promise that “all men are created equal,” declared that Black Lives Matter. But our country failed utterly to find the courage, unity, or governing capacity to deliver on those fundamental ideas of equality and freedom. If we’re being fully honest, amidst deep uncertainty, political polarization, frayed trust in government, and of course the stubborn and pernicious cancer of racism, there’s good reason to worry that we will not find the courage, unity, or governing capacity to deliver on them now.
But there is also reason for hope. One of the things giving me hope right now is the insistent leadership of young people who are marching in the streets, speaking up in their schools, and working to transform and mobilize their communities.
So I want to introduce you to Jalen Robinson, a young, Black organizer leading a Juneteenth march in Brooklyn today at noon (and a former baseball teammate of my son Marek). Here are Jalen’s words about why we are marching today:
As a 20 year old Black man in a city as diverse as New York, I have been exposed and appreciative of the uniqueness in each individual. New York is a proud melting pot, but it is also a city in the United States; a country that has systemic racism against Black Americans ingrained in its DNA. Whether we turn a blind eye to it or not, the current structure of America would simply not function without systemic racism. This is what we are fighting against. It extends to the policing & prison systems, politics, medical care, the legal system, and perhaps most importantly, our educational system.
Like many others, my school experience has not had much inclusion of Black history. In fact, I vividly remember the one time Juneteenth was mentioned in my junior year of high school. With that being said, the country is entering a necessary shift and finally paying more attention to Black America’s pleas. Recognizing Juneteenth is one step in adhering to the movement towards equality. I am organizing a protest on this momentous day not only to continue the fight against systemic oppression, but to amplify the voices of my people, celebrate black talent, and express the appreciation we have for ALL black lives.
Marek and Rosa and I will be joining Jalen for a march starting at noon at the Brooklyn Museum, and invite you to join me there, or at one of the many other events happening today. The Movement for Black Lives has a map of events across the city today, and through the weekend.
One of the places that I feel most personally implicated in ongoing systemic racism and segregation, but where we also engaged in reckoning, is in our public schools. So I was inspired to join IntegrateNYC’s District 15 middle-school youth council for a virtual conversation yesterday, and I’m looking forward to marching with many of our students today. Across our district, elementary school communities are organizing socially-distanced marches to help engage the next generation in the fight for Black lives. I’m planning to join P.S. 32 and P.S. 58 at 2:30, and then join P.S. 118, P.S. 133, P.S. 124, P.S. 39, and P.S. 107 at 3:45.
The Brooklyn Movement Center, a hub of Black-led organizing in Central Brooklyn, will be holding a Juneteenth Freedom Party beginning at 3:30 on Eastern Parkway, and ending with a rally at 5 at Grand Army Plaza.
And tomorrow, Black Youth Project 100 will be hosting a celebration of Black life and call to defune the NYPD at Foley Square at 3 p.m.
If you can’t show up in person (and I want to honor those who need to stay more physically distant), there are still many ways to participate in the movement from home. Learn about the history of Juneteenth. Donate to Black-led organizing. Urge your representatives (me included!) to take strong stands on holding police accountable and shifting resources from policing into communities who have been most harmed by racist policing and disinvestment.
Although, as Jamelle Bouie writes today, “paid holidays, while nice, are a grossly inadequate response to calls for justice and equality,” our office is closed today and our staff will be using the day to take action for racial justice and care for their communities. I hope you find ways to make this day a meaningful reminder of the work we have yet to do to reckon with our country’s history, and the powerful leadership of Black people in the struggle for liberation.
City and State Updates
- Latest impacts: As of 1:15PM yesterday, the number of positive cases in NYC is 208,097. We have lost 17,507 New Yorkers due to COVID-19, with another 4,692 deaths likely due to the disease. Additional DOHMH data available here: COVID-19 Data.
- Phase 2 is here: NYC is starting Phase 2 on Monday. In-person retail will be allowed. Offices will begin reopening with 50% capacity. Hair cuts are back. Starting today, restaurants can self-certify for outdoor dining on sidewalks and in parking spaces. Learn more about what types of businesses are allowed to open in Phase 2 here.
- Playgrounds are reopening: I know that many of your families are especially thrilled that playgrounds are reopening during Phase 2! Team sports (such as basketball, football, softball and soccer) are not permitted during Phase 2.
- Social distancing, together: As restaurants and playgrounds reopen, we really need to recommit to our social distancing efforts. Initial information seems to show that outdoor activities, including protests, where everyone is wearing masks have not led to a spike in cases. So as more activities become available, please continue to wear masks, wash hands frequently and keep a healthy distance. The de Blasio Administration has indicated that “Social Distancing Ambassadors” will be in the parks and on the streets to monitor crowding, distribute face coverings, and encourage hygiene. I hope so; but let’s all be social distancing ambassadors, too.
- Helping businesses reopen: The City is distributing 2 million more face coverings to Phase 2 businesses, and connecting business owners with a directory of wholesalers selling sneeze guards, PPE, and other equipment. There are also reopening guides for Phase 2 industries, including Open Restaurants guidelines. Go to nyc.gov/business or nyc.gov/coronavirus to find these resources and guides or use the dedicated Restart Hotline for business owners: 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692).
- Small business loans: We are still accepting applications for zero-interest loans to small businesses and independent contractors in District 39. Learn more and apply here.
- Rent Freeze: The Rent Guidelines Board voted Wednesday to issue a rent freeze on rent-stabilized apartments, meaning that rent for 1-year leases are frozen and 2-year leases must remain frozen in year 1 and can raise only 1% in year 2.
- NYC Housing Connect: HPD has launched a streamlined NYC Housing Connect portal, New Yorkers central resource for finding and applying for affordable housing. The new system streamlines the application process, provides New Yorkers with a clearer picture of the opportunities they can apply for and includes more types of housing.
- Get Cool NYC: This program targets vulnerable New Yorkers who are forced to stay inside their homes this summer by coronavirus to avoid heat exposure. The City is ramping up efforts to install as many as 74,000 air conditioners for low-income seniors this summer, and will provide financial assistance with utility bills.
- Voting: Many people are still awaiting their absentee ballots as the Board of Elections manages an unprecedented number of requests. Once you get yours, do not forget to sign and date the back of the return envelope as instructed to ensure the ballot is counted. Ballots must be postmarked by June 23rd, but early voting and in person voting are still options. Find your poll site here.
- Reminder to fill out the Census: Brooklyn continues to be one of the most undercounted areas in the country, threatening future resources and representation for our communities. If you haven’t yet, please take 10 minutes to fill out your census here.
- Back to school: The DOE is conducting a survey of families and students as part of planning for reopening in the fall. Parents can fill out the survey here, and students can fill out the survey here until 6/22.
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