From the Desk of Dr. Hudson: Juneteenth – A Call to Action

Published on June 17, 2024

Tomorrow marks Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that the more than 250,000 Black enslaved people in the state were now free. The announcement came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and marked the beginning of a journey toward justice and equity that continues today.

Juneteenth has been observed for more than 150 years, but it was not an official designation until 2021 when President Joe Biden signed a bill recognizing the day as a federal holiday.

Also, United Way for Southeastern Michigan offices will be closed tomorrow as we encourage staff and supporters to celebrate, gather with family and friends, reflect on the past, and look toward the future. Consider attending an event in your area like the Michigan Black Business Association Freedom Fest in Detroit, which United Way is proud to sponsor, or Ypsilanti’s Juneteenth Celebration, featuring Racial Equity Fund grantee Survivors Speak.

Juneteenth is an enduring reminder that while our progress has been significant, we are far from finished. The latest ALICE Report, released last month, shows that 42% of families in our region still struggle to make ends meet. While free, we cannot ignore that a significant portion of families remain shackled by systems that perpetuate the mistreatment of marginalized people.

Race continues to be a factor in household stability, with 63% of Black, 52% of Native American, and 47% of Hispanic households falling below the ALICE budget threshold, the point at which families are earning enough to cover their most basic needs, compared to 38% of White and 27% of Asian households.

As we celebrate reformers like Harriet Tubman who risked her life for our freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who sought to end segregation, and Michelle Alexander who continues to speak out against modern-day injustices, we are reminded that these trailblazers not only envisioned a future where everyone had a right to eat at the same lunch counter and be treated with dignity but that they also could afford that meal because they had equal access to education, employment, and opportunity. This requires we continue the work of dismantling systemic barriers and institutionalized racism.

In the face of adversity with mountains still yet to climb, I’m kept grounded and inspired by glimmers of hope like our Racial Equity Fund and our recent 21-Day Equity Challenge where more than 13,000 individuals committed to learning, growing, and creating a more equitable future.

Together, I believe we have the power to bring about real change but only when we are committed to doing the work. So, this Juneteenth, I renew my commitment to doing the work – even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable and I hope that you’ll join me.

Let’s remember the sacrifices and struggles of those who have come before us and honor their legacy in the absolute best way we can – by continuing their fight.

Darienne Driver Hudson, Ed.D.
President and CEO
United Way for Southeastern Michigan