ACTION ALERT: Celebrating Juneteenth

June 18th, 2021 - by Cherelle Blazer / Sierra Club

ACTION ALERT: Sierra Club Calls for Reparations for Black Americans

Cherelle Blazer / Sierra Club

 (June 17, 2021) — Saturday is June 19th, or “Juneteenth” — traditionally a Southern Black holiday celebrating liberation and commemorating the day on June 19th, 1865, months after the Civil War had ended and years since the Emancipation Proclamation, that soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and spread the news that slavery had ended, freeing those people who were still in bondage even after the war was over.

Growing up in Texas, Juneteenth was always something my family celebrated. It was OUR Fourth of July: Black Liberation Day. Part family reunion and part community celebration. Black families all over the community would get together at neighborhood parks to celebrate life even in the face of oppression. There was always laughter, dancing, music, joy, soul food, and most of all, love. It was life affirming, it was culturally affirming, and it was my favorite holiday.

Today Juneteenth has become a national celebration of Black people and a call for the fulfilment of the promise of liberation. It’s the commemoration of having made it through the horrific nightmare — of forced slavery, of segregation, Jim Crow, and even current oppression which we see in the form of continued police violence, political disenfranchisement, and disproportionate amounts of pollution being dumped on Black communities. It is time for the liberation to be complete, for harm to end and restitution and repair to be made.

That’s why this year the Sierra Club is calling for reparations for Black people. It is impossible to accomplish our mission of creating a healthy, safe, and sustainable future for all without acknowledging and materially addressing the past and present economic, cultural, psychological, and spiritual impacts of racism on Black communities. 

As a 129-year-old organization, the Sierra Club has work to do both internally with staff and volunteers, and externally with our community partners. Though it is a difficult walk, we are dedicated to justice and accountability. We invite you as our membership, and the rest of the United States, to come along with us on this journey towards liberation and repair. 

The Movement for Black Lives defines reparations as a concept rooted in international law that involves specific forms of repair to specific individuals, groups of people, or nations for specific harms they have experienced in violation of their human rights, which are essential to collective liberation and well-being.  Reparations include five key components: Cessation/Assurance of Non-Repetition, Restitution and Repatriation, Compensation, Satisfaction, and Rehabilitation.

Communities that have been treated as sacrifice zones by big polluters have been calling for reparations for years. So much of the wealth in the US was built on a foundation of theft and enslavement, and by returning some of that wealth to the people it was stolen from, we can begin to undo the intergenerational harm done to Black communities.

To learn more about reparations, please read this explanation from the Movement for Black LivesYou can also read our press release from Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz and Executive Director Mike Brune.
Happy Juneteenth.
Cherelle Blazer is the Senior Director of International Climate and Policy Campaign for the Sierra Club