Request for Chicago to Annually Acknowledge Juneteenth Downtown: A Letter to Chicago Aldermen
Thursday, July 4, 2019
Dear City Council of Chicago,
As you spend time with family and friends this Independence Day, please take time to remember that when the United States achieved its independence, Black Americans were still enslaved. This year — 2019, marks the 400th year since Africans were brought ashore to this land and forced into slavery. This year is also the 100th year anniversary of the Chicago 1919 Race Riot — an event that escalated violence and racial tension between white and Black people in the city. In recognition of this history, we, as residents of Chicago, request that the City Council support our efforts to create an annual Juneteenth event downtown.
Juneteenth (June 19th) is a celebration of Black liberation that began after African Americans were emancipated from slavery in 1865. Some call it, “Black Independence Day.” As of 2017, 45 states in the United States — including Illinois, recognize Juneteenth, in some capacity. Despite state recognition, Chicago has done very little to elevate this day. For instance, Chicago public schools don’t include Juneteenth in their curriculum.
In addition to the historical and cultural reasons to uplift Juneteenth, this request should also be taken into consideration because of the lack of safe entertainment spaces for Black youth. Many Black youth are quarantined to gun stricken neighborhoods, due to a lack of funds and the threat of police harassment.
We rarely see Black youth enjoy Chicago’s downtown because many of the festivals and events are inaccessible & unaffordable. Lollapalooza is one example of this. The concert is a huge event that attracts young people from all over the Midwest. However, tickets start at $130. Data collected from the last U.S. Census reveal that Black Chicagoans are the most likely to live in deep poverty. Also, many reports demonstrate that Black youth in Chicago have the highest unemployment rates in the city and nation.
In regards to police treatment, Chicago police often overly target Black youth — particularly when they travel outside of their neighborhoods. This is evidenced by CPD’s response to the crowd of Black youth who traveled downtown during their spring break, in April of this year. The youth were met with suspension and resistance. Although they were not breaking the law by gathering downtown, they were aggressively profiled and redirected out of the area by Chicago Police.
Black youth in Chicago deserve better.
*Black youth deserve the ability to travel and be in spaces, such as downtown, without fear of intimidation.
*Black youth deserve to have their history and culture publicly recognized by their city government.
*Black youth also deserve celebratory spaces, opportunities to shine, and the freedom to simply be youth.
Uplifting Black youth and instilling cultural pride in the next generation is essential to the Black Remembrance Project and it is the primary reason for our request around Juneteenth. We would like this to be one of your priorities for this year too.
In honor of Black youth and this special year, the Black Remembrance Project is advocating for the city to officially recognize, June 19th as “Juneteenth” and we request that the city provide free space downtown for Juneteenth. We believe that this free annual event will create safe opportunities for Black youth and their families to gather, be entertained, connect to resources, and learn about their history. We are currently coordinating a community-led and city-wide Juneteenth Planning Committee, to make this happen. However, we need your support.
As an Alderperson, you can support our request by doing the following:
Work with us to create legislation that makes Juneteenth an official holiday of the cityIdentify ways to make downtown more accessible and safe for Black youthStand in solidarity with us by releasing a statement that acknowledges and supports our request for recognition of Juneteenth
Please stand with us in uplifting Black American history and the next generation, by honoring our request for Juneteenth.
Members of the Black Remembrance Project
This letter is written on behalf of the Black Remembrance Project, a one-year initiative designed to commemorate Black historic moments, in Chicago, with special anniversaries in 2019.