Social Work Complex - A, Room 211
211 South Cooper Street, Box 19129
Arlington, TX 76019
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Juneteenth is a special day of observance and celebration of freedom.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States, specifically in the Confederate states.
Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, the date Major General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers landed in Galveston – two years, six months and 18 days after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation - with news that slavery had ended in those states controlled by the Union.
But, had slavery really ended? Had the freedom bell really rung for human beings brought in chains to North America’s shores to be enslaved?
Much that would follow the Emancipation of slaves in America would include a new bondage - a more modern form of institutional, systemic and legalized chains of oppression.
There would come decades of lynchings across the Southern states, theft of land and property, enactment of Jim Crow laws, discrimination in lending, housing and education, separate but unequal facilities, redlining and, yes, police violence.
This year, particularly, there is an urgency in the wake of the video-taped killing of George Floyd – and of the shootings of hundreds of other black Americans by police - to address the incomplete Emancipation of African Americans.
Dr. Martin Luther King said it best in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech when he declared African Americans and people of color had come to the nation’s Capital, in essence, “to cash a check” – a promissory note provided them in the words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which guaranteed all Americans those unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, when we look at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and, this week, we add Rayshard Brooks, it is crystal clear: As Dr. King said, America has given people of color “a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” However, we can’t afford to believe, as a country, a state, city, community or university, that the bank of justice is bankrupt.
It’s frustrating an upsetting to see situations where police officers could and should have reacted differently and deescalated situations, but instead they used deadly violence and in many cases the officers became the criminal in situations where race was clearly an issue.
We must believe, as Dr. King said, the great vaults of opportunity of this nation, can – and will – afford all of us “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
So, as we celebrate this day and the freedom it represents, we should be mindful that all Americans should take action and work to ensure equality and justice for people of color.
As Social Workers, we play an important role and a have a duty to speak out against injustices whenever and wherever they may occur. As recently mentioned in a NASW article, “Social Workers have a professional and moral obligation to address and end racism. We are not able to be neutral.”
It is stated in the NASW Code of Ethics, Ethical Standards, paragraph 4.02, “Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical ability.”
The Code of Ethics also outlines a duty of respect among colleagues and peers and an ethical responsibility to engage in social and political action. Therefore, it is imperative we actively recognize, discuss and remove the many barriers that still exist limiting African Americans and other marginalized peoples from accessing the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
I encourage you to attend virtually or safely in-person Juneteenth commemoration events and to take time to learn the history surrounding this day and the long and endless struggles of African Americans for justice. I also encourage you to work toward making this a more just society.
Your first step should be to watch our Juneteenth event, The History of Juneteenth, Race and Current Events, featuring Dr. Pamela “Safisha” Hill, on Social Work’s Facebook page, live at 2 p.m. this Thursday. Dr. Hill is an Adjunct Professor in the SSW and a faculty affiliate with the UTA Center for African American Studies. CAAS is also co-sponsoring this event with us.
In addition, NASW is hosting a Juneteenth Virtual Town Hall, Friday, June 19 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. (CST), Social Work Conversation About Racial Equity. To learn more, go to: https://www.facebook.com/naswsocialworkers/videos/308145893681344/
SSW will also be hosting a series of virtual conversations this summer about Race, Health Disparities and COVID-19. More information to be sent out shortly, but save the following dates and times: Thursday, June 25 at 2 p.m.; Friday, July 10 at 2 p.m.; and Thursday, July 16 at 2 p.m.
Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington