Marsha Joslin of Vancouver had two simple points.
Joslin, who introduced herself as the great granddaughter of a slave, said Juneteenth needs to be a national holiday and black history needs to be taught to schoolchildren.
“Can we start a plan to put black history in the schools?” she said during a panel discussion, part of the Vancouver NAACP’s seventh annual Juneteenth celebration Saturday at Clark College. “Black children don’t even know about this day.”
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, and the U.S. House of Representatives approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution banning slavery a little more than two years later. But it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when Major Gen. Gordon Grange arrived in Galveston, Texas, and told slaves they were free that slavery is recognized as officially ending.
Juneteenth combines the words “June” and “nineteenth.” It is recognized as a state holiday or observance by all states except for Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, but the federal government has not made it a national holiday.
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, one of eight panelists in the “Together We Rise” discussion, took the opportunity to give Joslin the proclamation she signed recognizing “Juneteenth Celebration Day.”
Saturday’s panel discussion covered a variety of issues, with a focus on education and children.
“I think one of the points everyone has made is that it all comes down to the children,” said Donna Sinclair, an adjunct history professor at Washington State University Vancouver who moderated the discussion.
Jeff Snell, superintendent of the Camas School District, said he just completed his 24th year in education as a teacher, coach, principal and administrator.
“I am also extremely frustrated we haven’t come as far as I’d hoped,” he said, adding that officials can still predict how schoolchildren will fare based on their race and economic standing.
McEnerny-Ogle said 43 percent of Vancouver Public Schools’ students are children of color.
“These are the children who are going to be our community leaders,” she said.
Alonzo Chadwick, a gospel singer and community activist in Portland and one of two African-Americans on the panel, talked about how people need to rise up individually by addressing their own views and perspectives before they can rise up together.
Chadwick said people often say “the system is broken.”
“I think it’s working just the way it was intended to work,” he said.
The other African-American on the panel, Commander Phil Sample of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said his department strives to create a community where people can live without fear.
“I’m not going to say it’s a perfect place, but it’s a pretty darn good place,” he said. “Clark County is a good place to live.”
Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain noted that earlier this month, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill apologized for the June 1969 police raid on Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The raid triggered days of protests and sparked a broader movement for the rights of gays and lesbians.
McElvain said his department is developing best practices and procedures, similar to Seattle Police Department’s Safe Place program that was created in response to low reporting of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and school bullying.
YWCA Clark County presented two awards Saturday to community members working to end oppressions.
The 2019 Val Joshua Racial Justice Award was presented to Abbie Bambilla, who has worked to combat racism as an intern in the YWCA’s Sexual Assault Program, a volunteer in the YWCA’s SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program and a student leader at Washington State University Vancouver.
According to the YWCA’s blog, Bambilla “continuously acts in ways that ensure the voices of marginalized communities will be the loudest and most represented.”
“Abbie regularly analyzes and engages in discussion around how to advocate for, support and prioritize marginalized communities with intention and mindfulness.”
Asante Jackson was presented with the 2019 Youth Social Justice Award. Jackson, a senior at Henrietta Lacks Health & Bioscience High School, was recognized for boosting diversity awareness, especially through a high school project that promoted peace and highlighted racial injustice.
According to the YWCA’s blog, Jackson created a video for a schoolwide assembly, but images of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, were considered too political. Kaepernick garnered both praise and criticism for sitting and kneeling during the national anthem to protest oppression of African-Americans and other people of color.
Jackson ended up making a video where his classmates shared their personal heritages.