Juneteenth: A Reminder That Delay Is Not Acceptable

By Gordon McHenry, Jr. Posted on June 18, 2020 In News, Racial Equity

Amidst this national outcry for justice—with awareness of centuries of systemic racism in our country at an all-time high—celebratory traditions like Juneteenth are also getting their due. While a celebration of freedom and the end of slavery, Juneteenth is also the story of shameful delay. A delay and betrayal that carries throughout our culture.  

As the child of two Texans who each migrated to Seattle for better opportunity, I’m reflecting on the urgency our community is facing now. We’ve all heard the last three weeks referred to as “a movement, not a moment”. This hits home and gives me hope—yet, a movement that is going to generate the change we want requires all of us to act. To act quickly and without delay.   

First, we need to restructure policing. This is going to require listening to communities—and really hearing their wants, needs and demands. We know the current system is not equitable and encourage the mayors and councils of the 39 cities in King County, along with the King County Executive and Council, to take a hard look at fundamentally restructuring the system. 

We also know that public safety goes beyond the basic rights and dignity of trusting that a routine traffic stop will not be dehumanizing or end in death. That a statement of “I can’t breathe, sir” doesn’t need to be said.  The reality is that the safest communities are not the ones with the most policing; they’re the ones with the most resources.  

A reallocation of resources is what is needed so that safety can be reflected in all aspects of a racially equitable community: 

  • Housing. The basic right of feeling safe in your own home implies that you have one. Yet, this isn’t the case for too many people of color. In 2019, more than half of individuals experiencing homelessness in King County identified as people of color. This is compared to people of color making up only 33% of the general population in King County. Black people make up 6.8% of our population and 27% of the homelessness population. These disparities exist because people of color are less likely to have benefited from multigenerational inherited wealth. 

    The response to homelessness cannot be criminalization; the response must be housing and the services necessary to help people recover from the trauma of being homeless. 
  • Access to Food.  Hunger insecurity is pervasive in our region and cannot be teased apart from the inequities and systemic racism that exist.  

    More programs that support families in poverty are necessary to turn the tide. The national school breakfast program is a great example. Started by the Black Panther Party, this federal program helps students start the day with a healthy breakfast. At United Way, we’ve led advocacy efforts to ensure that breakfast is served during the school day so that every child has access. This is the type of change in funding that is required to move us forward.  

    We need to continue to listen to our communities and support their efforts to advocate for programs like SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that put the purchasing power in the hands of people of color.
  • Education. The number of students of color in King County who go to college remains disproportionately low. High school completion rates have gone up, but enrollment in college has not followed suit. Many studies point to the long-term impacts of education on income and financial security:  people with a bachelor’s degree earn 84% more than people with a high school diploma.

    Supporting youth of color in education has long-term benefits and will help us move toward a more equitable and stable King County. At United Way, we’re investing in programs that build positive cultural identities—with encouraging results. It’s time for our community to invest in young people of color. 

Just as the message of freedom was delayed to enslaved people in Texas and across the United States, doing anything except moving quickly and aggressively in this unprecedented time to dismantle systemic racism, is not acceptable.   


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