Something remarkable happened last week. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill making Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday. For the Senate to pass any bill unanimously, yet alone a bill that addresses perhaps the most contentious issue of our time — race — is darn near miraculous. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law two days later, on June 17. In the Davenport Diocese, religious and cultural celebrations of Juneteenth last week bore witness to our connectedness as member of the human race on a journey toward wholeness that advances a step at a time.
Juneteenth celebrates the news of freedom delivered June 19, 1865, to enslaved Black persons in Galveston, Texas. They learned the Civil War had ended that year and that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation 2-1/2 years earlier. Juneteenth marked the beginning of a long, arduous journey toward true freedom, with many steps forward and backwards along the way. We, Americans, children of the same God, must work to remove the speed bumps, potholes and other obstacles along the journey to our wholeness.
Let us be honest and acknowledge Iowa laws passed this spring that many people view as hurtful and harmful. Among them: election restrictions pertaining to in-person and absentee balloting; “Back the Blue,” which severely penalizes people protesting police misconduct; and a ban on inclusion of “divisive concepts” in school curriculum and mandatory diversity training. In addition, lawmakers eliminated school district plans intended to maintain diversity in urban schools.
Unanimous passage of the Juneteenth bill was not controversial because it did not disturb the status quo. On the surface, this law does not require us to reflect on our nation’s history — the triumphs and tragedies, the good deeds and the sins, the pleasant and the painful truths.
We cannot allow the backlash over teaching diversity and the painful history of America’s struggle with race to prevent dialogue and discussion. “Let’s own it as a country and move forward,” as Ryan Saddler urged at this year’s Quad Cities Juneteenth Festival at the Lincoln Community Center in Davenport.
Education about race must continue beyond the school years. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about race and our country’s history at community events, such as Juneteenth, in museums, especially the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, and in interactions with others — in person or virtually. “Let’s respect one another and learn our history collectively,” says Saddler, CEO and board chair of Friends of MLK, which organizes the annual Quad Cities Juneteenth Festival. “We’re on this journey together.”
Parishioners of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville conducted their second Prayer Vigil seeking healing and an end to racism, held June 16 to commemorate Juneteenth. “This year’s service contained the same themes of healing from the wounds of racism, seeking to learn from one another, and not tiring in the pursuit of racial justice,” said Father Chuck Adam, the pastor. The parish’s Facebook page contained a quote to reflect on: “Give us, good Lord, the grace to work for the things we pray for.” The parish also provided this call to action, written by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas (https://tinyurl.com/wynudc):
• We pledge to examine our own biases and positions of privilege through self-reflection, and earnestly work to resolve them.
• We pledge to live by compassion and to be consciously inclusive of all individuals.
• We pledge to affirm the value of diversity.
• We pledge to promote understanding, inclusion, and mutual respect, and thus build community within all races, ethnicities and cultures.
• We pledge to transform our institutions into authentically anti-racist and anti-oppressive communities of action.
• We pledge to advocate for justice, demand equal opportunity for all and so help create a beloved community for everyone to share.
In his column in this week’s Catholic Messenger, Father Ron Rolheiser shared a eucharistic prayer he created for those times when there is no bread and wine to be consecrated. It inspires us to live our faith in the way that Jesus calls us to live. The prayer reads, in part: “Lord, as we make this memorial, above all we ask you to help us to break down everything that separates us from each other, all division in our world, so that You may be able to feed us all at one table, as one family, as one God of us all.”
Let us make this journey of discovery, people of different races, companions walking humbly with our God.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor