Juneteenth National Independence Day is Acknowledgement, Not Atonement: Statement From Ron Busby, Sr., President & CEO of U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.

This is a significant moment in our country.

Today, President Biden signed the bill known as the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, 415-14, establishing, for the first time in nearly 40 years, a new national holiday.

This measure comes in time for Juneteenth, the 156th anniversary of the day the news that slavery was abolished reached the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas — though more than two years after all others were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

This year, the establishing of Juneteenth National Independence Day is of vital importance, and celebrating Juneteenth is even more important.  We are surviving a pandemic that has had a devastating effect on our community.  41% of Black businesses were lost and many of our community were on the front lines, deemed “essential workers,” thus having their health and lives disproportionately affected. We are also healing in the aftermath of accountability served for the murder of George Floyd, while we remain hopeful about the future with the upcoming legislation of the George Floyd Act to reform law enforcement across this country.

African Americans still endure the aftermath of slavery that impacts everyday life in 21st century America.  As we continue the journey to atonement — creating equity and economic strength for Black Americans today is the North Star.

While many may see today’s effort as a national atonement, this is rather an acknowledgement of America’s painful and brutal past, and an effort toward atonement.

Now is the time for action and accountability from both the public sector and private sector to drive due access for Black America in health care, education and economics.

It is worth nothing that holidays intended to honor our “Black In America” story often exclude us from participating. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Black workers earning below the poverty line was 14.3 percent in 2017, compared to 8.6 percent for whites. This means that while the federal government’s employees will get the holiday off or paid time-and-a-half if they do work, the overwhelmingly Black low-wage workers are less likely to get holidays off, especially holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and now, Juneteenth National Independence Day.

The best celebration of and for our Black citizens is fairness and equity. As we celebrate, let us also collaborate to ensure America fulfills her pledge of “liberty and justice for all.”

June 22, 2021