Juneteenth is the oldest national commeroration of the ending of slavery in the United States, dating back to its first observance in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, June 19, Emancipation Day, is now recognized globally for its significance and impact on president day systems.
This day of observance commemorates freedom and emphasizes the long-stand- ing struggles and suffering of the African-American community in our nation. It is a time for reflection and self-assessment. It is an opportunity for pause, acknowledg- ment, and grieving. It is both a celebration and a reckoning of our shared histories and an opportunity for action and dialogue.
My colleague, Legis. Jason Richberg, is not only a lawmaker, husband, father, friend, and son; he is also a Black man living in America working to make a differ- ence by addressing and changing the ways we tackle bias and racism at all levels. Just last year, he introduced legislation to commemorate Juneteenth in Suffolk County officially, but that was just one piece of the larger mission.
Legis. Richberg has introduced more than 20 resolutions since taking office in 2019, many of which work to address inequities in our society.
Resolution 1361, which protects the rights of individuals in the workplace by expressly prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle or religious attire, is one of those bills.
“This was sparked by several conversa- tions and testimonies from the public about their experiences of discrimination from wearing things like burqas in the workplace," said Richberg. "People don't always understand the significance of hair and religious wear. The freedom and empowerment that comes from presenting yourself to the world authentically is a form of liberation unto itself."
Resolution 1554 is also essential, as it works to educate Suffolk County’s public workforce from the inside. This legislation mandates that all municipal workers complete diversity and inclusion training on an annual basis. This mandate took effect this year, with many of our county workers working on completing this training this month as we speak.
Another significant initiative spearheaded by Richberg is the creation of a task force to address the disparate impacts of maternal morbidity and mortality in Suf- folk County.
“Except for my wife, almost everyone we have spoken to has had a traumatic or problematic experience either during their pregnancy or childbirth. Many women of color expressed concerns about not being taken seriously by their physician, and this is something we see a lot when it comes to women of color,” said Richberg said of the genesis for the creation of this task force.
“I worked diligently to have representa- tion from across Suffolk County. Our task force will include doulas, midwives, health professionals from our county health department, Stony Brook Medicine, NYU Langone Health and Northwell. This is unique, as there won’t be any legislators on this task force. I felt it was essential to the
While these measures are already work- ing to level the playing field and encourage lasting change, we understand that the work has just begun.
“When we think about Juneteenth, the saddest part about it for me is the realization that most of these individuals didn’t even know they were free for quite some time. Even now, we’re still working towards that freedom. Some folks want this to be the end of the conversation. But it’s not. We are still fighting for civil rights, equality, and true freedom. Whether you are Black, gay, transgender, poor, undocumented, disabled -– the fight wages on. There cannot be true liberation for one of us while another suf- fers under the thumb of oppression,” said Richberg.
As we approach Juneteenth, I will leave you with this powerful sentiment shared with me by my colleague, whom I am proud to work alongside at the Suffolk County Legislature.
“The accomplishments of giants are often littered with the tiny steps of elves.”
Each day is a new opportunity to do better and to be better. Therefore, I encour- age everyone to find a way to honor and acknowledge Juneteenth. The only way we will ever see true equality is by taking accountability in our own lives for the roles we play in perpetuating and overcoming systemic racism. So, let’s keep the conver- sation going.