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Critical Conversations

Juneteenth: the fierce urgency of now

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Happy Freedom Day!

I’m Candace Daymond, and I’m excited to introduce myself as BRYC’s new Community Relations Manager. This will be the first of many opportunities to connect with you, and I’m overjoyed to begin with a discussion of one of my favorite holidays—Juneteenth!

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that slaves in Confederate States “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Unfortunately, the proclamation could not be implemented in areas still under Confederate control. In Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, freedom finally came on June 19, 1865 — a full two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — when 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and enforced the decree. The 250,000 newly-freed Texans dubbed the day “Juneteenth,” recognizing the liberation of African Americans.

The 155th anniversary of Juneteenth began thirty minutes after the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board unanimously voted to change the name of Lee High School, eliminating its dedication to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. During the discussion that led to the vote, community members noted that a strong push to change the name happened in 2016. Among its leaders were BRYC College Fellow Tyari Heard, now a rising senior at the University of Chicago, and our Director of Community, Josh Howard. Their and others’ efforts were derailed, leaving students and community members to wait a full four years for the justice and healing they sought. “Finally,” many exclaimed, citing the name’s 63-year tenure and long fight to change it. As the clock struck midnight, I immediately thought of the historical significance of Juneteenth, the pain of waiting, and the action required for transformative change.

Juneteenth reminds us that words and proclamations set precedents for progress, but action drives real social change. Fighting for justice often meets delays that force marginalized groups to continue waiting for basic rights already long overdue. Juneteenth spotlights the “fierce urgency of now,” which has never rung more clearly than in our current moment. Right now, freedom fighters across the country and world continue to dismantle oppressive systems, invigorated by the hope that people of color will have a different experience in this nation. How long must we wait? We must resist attempts to delay progress in our struggle for liberation. The time for change is now.

Let us march on ‘til victory is won,

Candace Daymond

Letter to the Community: George Floyd

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Dear Friends,

We at BRYC, like you, are sad and angry over the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd; the dangerous and absurd accusations made of Christian Cooper in Central Park; and the other, seemingly daily reminders that it is not safe to be Black in America. These grisly violences are the results of systemic racism.

If we, white people, purport to care about Black Americans’ physical, psychological, and economic safety, we must graduate from the notion that White Supremacy is a burning cross. No. It’s hiring practices; school-based “discipline”; discriminatory lending; victim-blaming; property tax siphoning; racist sports mascots; “colorblindness”; silence at family dinner tables; and more. Where do you fit in?

Many of us, white people, are not bad people. But we benefit from advantages so baked into our privileged experience that we are blind to them, thus we can’t help but deepen these advantages, further marginalizing Black people, even friends and colleagues. This unconsciousness is a choice. If we make it — if we don’t do something different personally — we are, in fact, bad people, and on our worst days, we are accomplices to murder. That, to me, is more uncomfortable than confronting a relative over an insensitive comment. Do you agree?

BRYC is committed to being a safe haven for its predominantly Black students. We will continue to name injustice because we value our Fellows’ lives and experiences. We will continue to create spaces for our Fellows to critically examine these issues in ways that do not re-traumatize them. Our non-Black staff and volunteers will become bolder, more thoughtful allies. And as an organization, we will dismantle systems that perpetuate college access and completion disparities along racial lines.

As a straight, white, cisgender man, I have to grow a lot. I hope you will join me. Here are a few simple action steps to start:

In community,

Lucas

 

A Letter from Mr. Josh: Ahmaud Arbery

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Ahmaud Arbery

When the stay-at-home order went into effect, I began regularly running around the Capitol, and occasionally there were others doing the same. Every time I ran by someone, I’d go out of my way to distance myself for the health of both parties.

One day, after seeing a familiar, wary look on a woman’s face as I approached, it hit me: I’ve been socially and physically distancing my entire adult life. Sidestepping to appear less threatening is nothing new; Black people could give a Ted Talk on it. At the time, I laughed, shook my head, and kept moving. This woman (and most “concerned” passersby on any given day) don’t know my diverse family and friend network, that I own my home and two businesses, or that I help to lead a thriving organization — not that they need to know anything about me to justify that I am drawing breath. They don’t see me. They just see a Black man, a trigger to be concerned.

All of us understandably have heightened fears about our well-being during this uncertain time. If I’m being generous, maybe that’s what was behind the woman’s fear-filled eyes that day. But what about all the other days? And certainly nothing justifies the disgusting murder of Ahmaud Arbery or the seemingly weekly, unaccounted-for violences against persons of color.

My family regularly gave me and my cousins “the talk” growing up and, to this day, I’m extra concerned about everything when I leave my home:

“I wonder if I’ll be on Nextdoor today because some ignorant neighbor doesn’t know I live here.”

“I can’t wear a bandanna outside lest someone assume I’m in a gang.”

“Make sure you wave at neighbors so you appear approachable.”

I am constantly code-switching and shape-shifting; I’m good at it because my life depends on it. I tell myself it’s necessary, but really, I’m making excuses for others’ racism and fragility. Even when we are perfect, we are hunted. Even when we are hunted, we are ignored. While I’m choosing not to live in perpetual fear, I’d be lying if I said I will proceed normally. I will once again change my exercise regimen. These are the taken-for-granted life routines that we as Black people must plan for, and even then there are no guarantees. I will be even more cautious than I already am. I’ll continue to love near and far and help my students navigate and change this unjust world. And I will continue to run. Not from the truth, though.

Today and every day, the BRYC Community sends love to Ahmaud Arbery, his family and friends, and all those who are suffering by extension from this heinous, maddening act. We stand with you: in love, in agonizing pain, in wrathful anger, and in action.