Del. Price's Reflections on Juneteenth
CHANGE IS HAPPENING. I stopped for a moment to reflect today…. My team pushed me on the idea of using the term “celebrate” in conjunction with Juneteenth and I had issues with it. It was hard for me to say celebrate when I am witnessing and experiencing the effects of slavery and racism 401 years later from the arrival of the first stolen humans from the continent of Africa. Living and working in the area where they first arrived… my office less than 200 feet from the Emancipation Oak… It’s hard to celebrate when SO MANY residents haven’t gotten their unemployment benefits, a pandemic is hitting Black communities harder, our priorities have become targets of looming budget cuts, gun violence is still occurring in our communities, Black women are dying during pregnancy and child birth, people are being evicted, and in many circles all Black lives don’t matter, etc. etc. etc. It’s too much.
But if forced to find things to celebrate today, I can breathe in deep and exhale slowly and find joy in current developments… More recently, I know it was progress to arrive at a point of passing significant legislation this year, even after having to assert that systemic racism exists we got July designated as Maternal Health Awareness month in Virginia, the HEROES Act passed with more equity focused elements, investments in our community are being made to prevent gun violence and we passed gun violence prevention bills, HB340 helps put off Evictions while the Governor’s initiative will provide for rent and mortgage relief, protests have resulted in immediate changes on the local level and have helped create a new environment for the state and federal levels to fight for their bills to pass regarding public safety, and as always, there is beauty in the struggle.
Thinking back over my time spent in the General Assembly, I can see the recent changes more clearly, even just in the political environment. In 2016, my first Session, I gave a Black History Month speech about Claudette Colvin. In my prepared remarks, in referencing a protest Black college students did at a Tr*mp rally, I was going to say Black Lives Matter from the House Floor. That was 3 years after the organization had been founded and it was being used as a specific reference to fight systemic racism. I got to that part and I had to weigh out saying the phrase to show solidarity against the possible repercussions as I’m sure my colleagues across the aisle would have wanted me to see real punishment. I didn’t say it. But I said lots of other things in the last four years.
Fast forward to 2017, I gave a speech at the December graduation for NNPD where my words were intended to inspire them to be their best because our communities needed them to be, but the speech was heard by many as anti-police so much to the point that I felt the effects of being shunned and held at arm’s length on one hand and got many emails and calls of support on the other. It really illustrated the disconnect between the Black community and law enforcement in Hampton Roads… while also putting me as the target of some pretty toxic feedback.
And now, seeing in 2020 – the magnitude of the protests, the bold and beautiful use of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” across the world by all races and ages, churches where I had once felt super uncomfortable are preaching messages of justice and talking about the real work needed to check their white privilege, seeing corporations put out statements supporting Black people, and seeing states and businesses take today off as a real holiday – things are changing! The environment is different. It feels amazing yet bewildering to think of how far we have come in that regard in those 4 years.
But what will we do with this moment? That’s where I’ve been focusing…..
I am grateful for their pressure to get me to the point of celebration because moments of joy must be embraced as we go about doing the hard work of obtaining our freedom.
I celebrate the work of freedom fighters then and now. I celebrate the unreasonable resilience of our community. I celebrate the divine light we carry in quests for justice. I scream thank you to the protesters who have faced the very brutality that they wish to change and continued marching. I celebrate all who are working in their respective lanes to ensure justice becomes a reality in this country.
But I do want to offer a caution… a caveat of sorts…. Don’t get so full on the low hanging fruit that you lose sight of the real meal… let the snacks fuel you in the fight for long-lasting substantial change. Repeat after me: We won’t settle for anything less than freedom.