To commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, Mercer Island Mayor Benson Wong recently signed a proclamation to observe June 19 as Juneteenth on the Island.
Juneteenth is officially recognized in 47 states and will become a new legal state holiday in Washington in 2022 following Gov. Jay Inslee’s signing House Bill 1016 into action on May 13.
The proclamation adds, “On this day, people in communities across the country come together to acknowledge the painful history and lasting, systemic impact of slavery and racial injustice in the United States.”
According to Juneteenth.com and a state of Washington proclamation, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery. “From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond,” the Juneteenth.com site reads.
The Mercer Island proclamation — which Wong signed at the June 1 city council meeting — notes that on Juneteenth, people can recommit to the goal of creating a more equal and just society, and Wong encourages residents to celebrate African American freedom on Juneteenth.
House Bill 1016 reads that Juneteenth should be a day for people “to engage in fellowship with Black/African Americans; revisit our solidarity and commitment to antiracism; educate ourselves about slave history; and continue having conversations that uplift every Washingtonian.”
Kati McConn, Mercer Island High School’s Student Group on Race Relations (SGORR) adviser and English teacher, shared her thoughts on the proclamation and how her students will become involved by distributing information about Juneteenth:
“The proclamation recognizes this important holiday for a large portion of our country’s population, and an important marker in our country’s history. By recognizing this holiday on our island, we can continue to break down barriers between ourselves and others. I hope that this proclamation allows us to explore the complex and tragic history of slavery in our country more in our classrooms. As part of this recognition, the MIHS SGORR club will be putting together a brief history lesson on Juneteenth to show during finals week. We are very excited for this opportunity.”
Adam Smith, United States representative in Congressional District 9, which includes Mercer Island, released the following statement regarding his approval of the Island’s Juneteenth proclamation:
“Our country’s history is not complete without a full and thorough recognition of the atrocities of slavery and its terrible legacy. Juneteenth celebrates the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation arrived for the people enslaved in Texas — a whole two and half years after its enactment. Recognition of that history and generational trauma for Black Americans is the first step in undoing the damage and consequences of that time and addressing the deep-seated inequities that still exist today. It is great to hear Mercer Island will be commemorating Juneteenth this year, and I will continue to work with the community and in Congress to dismantle systemic racism and the socioeconomic inequities that continue to impact Black Americans.”
GUN VIOLENCE AWARENESS DAY
Mayor Wong signed another proclamation at the June 1 city council meeting, declaring June 4 as Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Emblazoned with orange type in key spots, the proclamation notes that by wearing orange on June 4, “Americans will raise awareness about gun violence and honor the lives of gun violence victims and survivors.” The council renews its commitment to reduce gun violence and pledges to help keep firearms out of the wrong hands.
The proclamation points out that 781 gun deaths occur in the state of Washington each year, and every day, more than 100 Americans are killed by gun violence.
The national Wear Orange campaign’s site explains that the friends of Hadiya Pendleton wore orange in her honor when she was shot and killed in Chicago at the age of 15 in 2013, one week after performing at President Obama’s second inaugural parade.
State Rep. Tana Senn of the 41st Legislative District, which includes Mercer Island, shared her thoughts on the Island proclamations.
“I applaud Mayor Wong for recognizing and supporting through these two proclamations the pain and dignity of gun violence survivors and our Black neighbors,” said Senn, adding that for her, this legislative session was highlighted by banning open carry of weapons at the Washington state capitol and surrounding grounds.
“I hope we can bring that same protection to city halls in the near future. Words and debate, not intimidation and violence, is the way to make change at all levels in our democracy.”
The Mercer Island School District stands strong on the gun violence awareness issue, noting on its Facebook page: “In response to the horrific Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, the Mercer Island School Board passed a resolution against gun violence to reiterate our district’s commitment to safe schools and our larger community.”