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Unity for Equality

On Monday June 19th, Shepley helped support the Habitat for Humanity Golf Tournament at the Ridge Club in Sandwich. I was given the chance to say a few words. In preparing my remarks, I was able to find an interesting correlation between Habitat for Humanity and the Juneteenth Holiday. Here is what I said.

Today, we celebrate Habitat Cape Cod and all the hard work that goes into making this event enjoyable, while raising funding and public awareness for our great need for affordable housing both locally and nationally. The center of every family is a safe place to live. Habitat for Humanity has done incredible work in building affordable housing here and in more than 70 countries all over the world.

Today we also celebrate Juneteenth which goes back to June 19th, 1865. Though the Emancipation Proclamation had been made effective in 1863, it took until after the end of the Civil war, more than two years later, to bring an actual end to slavery in this country. The last hold out state was Texas and some 250,000 people in Texas were still bound into slavery until the June 19, 1865 date that later became known as Juneteenth. During the period of the Reconstruction from the end of the Civil War in 1865 until 1877, former slaves were finally given their freedom and the chance to re-unite with their families, and to begin to enjoy the very things we take so much for granted today.

Juneteenth didn’t mean the end of racism, by any means.

Koinonia Farm outside of Americus, Georgia was an inter-racial farming cooperative community started in 1950 where all people were treated equally and all resources were shared. Some of the very early founders and supporters of what later became Habitat for Humanity, lived and worked on Koinonia Farm…. the very inspiration for Habitat began there. But even 85 years after the first Juneteenth in 1865, in 1950, a number of the Koinonia residents were actually excommunicated by the local Southern Baptist Church for their beliefs in racial equality. There were boycotts by the local community of the products produced on the farm all the way into the mid 1960’s and even the local Chamber of Commerce put further pressure on the residents of Koinonia to segregate. The level of challenge that people of color have faced in this country is beyond what most of us can comprehend. If you thought that Juneteenth was just another holiday with a funny sounding name, it is so much more than that. Juneteenth celebrates the beginning of independence of enslaved people in the US, but certainly not the end. Despite our proclamation that all men are created free and equal and that we all are entitled to life , liberty , and the pursuit of happiness, we are not there yet. Freedom is never free. We have to fight for it.

In the same spirit with which Habitat brings people together in true barn raising spirit to help house others, today we are all still challenged with creating racial equality too. Juneteenth is our second and now finally, federally recognized Independence Day.

Let’s not forget the true meaning of Juneteenth. It will take all of us to turn words into action.