On Juneteenth, The Fortune Society is taking time to celebrate, reflect, and commit to action. We recognize that June 19, 1865—the day when the last enslaved people learned they were free—marks a momentous milestone in history. Generations later, it is a day to honor Black history and culture, and to celebrate progress towards freedom. However, it is also a time to reflect on how the legacy of slavery continues to prevent the realization of true freedom for all.
This Juneteenth, we are heartened to see that people across the nation are taking to the streets to demand change. The killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Jamel Floyd, and far too many Black people in America have shed light on a reality that has existed since this nation’s founding and continues to impact all aspects of society.
At Fortune, we know all too well that the policing and criminal justice systems in America are rooted in slavery. This legacy manifested itself immediately after enslaved people were freed, as states found other ways to criminalize and punish Black people, and ensure that slavery’s legacy continued.
Rikers Island, where Black New Yorkers are detained at disproportionately high rates, is named after a judge who abused the Fugitive Slave Act and sent both freed and enslaved people who escaped back to the South.
Today, slavery is the foundation of the presumption of criminality that police and corrections officers hold towards Black people in America—a presumption that perpetuates brutality in the streets and behind bars everyday.
On Juneteenth, we are reckoning with slavery’s legacy and committing to action. But more importantly, we are creating space for unrelenting joy and hope, as we celebrate Black lives and the steps towards freedom taken on this historic day.
While much work remains, we are hopeful. Communities are coming together and demanding change—and we’ve seen that real change is happening.
On this day, and on every Juneteenth going forward, we will close our offices in order to fully stand in solidarity. Upon return on Monday, and in community with many others across the nation, we’ll continue to fight with renewed energy until true freedom is realized for all.