On Juneteenth, We Continue to Strive for ‘an Absolute Equality of Rights’
June 18, 2021
On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger carried Lincoln’s long delayed message of freedom to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. The proclamation read that “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” Juneteenth marks our country’s second Independence Day. While it has long been celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remained unknown to many Americans.
Juneteenth is regularly observed with celebrations of African American culture. Modern observances are primarily community celebrations that include street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests. Another important aspect of Juneteenth celebrations is giving back to the community. Many organizations sponsor food banks, hold clothing drives, host literacy and voting registration events, and other volunteer activities that serve to uplift and support people.
Melwood’s vision is a world that fully includes people with disabilities…no matter their heritage. Among our corporate values are inclusivity, respect, and compassion. We honor Juneteenth by redoubling our efforts to break down barriers that hinder full and effective participation in society for people with disabilities.
We know that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) with disabilities have a more difficult time accessing opportunities for employment. According to the most recent pre-COVID data, only about 28% of African Americans with a disability were employed, compared to 72% without a disability. While there hasn’t been any specific data released post-COVID, we have seen overall disability unemployment nearly double since 2020.
At Melwood, we create opportunities for ALL–diversity, inclusion, and equity are the foundation of our mission. Achieving true equity means that we must consistently engage with both the private sector and the government to educate and advocate for new programs and legislation. This is why the implementation of President Joseph R. Biden’s “Executive Order on Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” that was issued earlier this year is so important.
The executive order reaffirms the government’s commitment to “[a]ffirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our government… [b]y advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.” There are innovative and inspiring programs coming out of both the public and private sector, but so much more needs to be done to engage with and include marginalized communities.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, we invite everyone to continue to strive for an absolute equality of rights.
To quote Dr. Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better.” Let this be our charge.
Chief Program Officer
Vice President, Employee Success
Melwood is one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the country, employing more than 1,600 workers – nearly 1,000 of whom are people with disabilities. Melwood offers job placement, job training, life skills for independence, and support services to more than 2,500 people each year in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood also has an inclusive summer camp program for children and provides employment and support services to veterans and active duty military members who have experienced service-related trauma or injury. For more information, visit www.Melwood.org.
Vice President of Government Relations