By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Last month, Milwaukee celebrated its 49th annual celebration of Juneteenth Day and earlier this week, the celebration became an official major holiday.
County Executive David Crowley and County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson held a press conference regarding the work they are doing to make Milwaukee County the healthiest county in Wisconsin. A part of making Milwaukee County includes addressing the systemic racism that has long existed in Milwaukee.
During the press conference, Crowley signed a piece of legislation that officially established Juneteenth Day, which is celebrated on June 19, as a major holiday. In addition to giving county employees a day off to celebrate Black culture it’s giving them an opportunity to learn about Black history.
Crowley said that making Juneteenth Day a major holiday is part of their goal to achieve racial equity in Milwaukee. So much more needs to be done, he said, but it is an exciting day.
Juneteenth Day is a time to celebrate the rich history of Black people but it’s also about acknowledging the racial inequities and history of systemic racism, he said.
Nicholson added that Juneteenth Day is also known as Freedom Day, in recognition of the day in 1865 when the last of the slaves found out they were free.
By recognizing Juneteenth Day, the county is making a statement that Black lives matter and that Black lives are a part of history, Nicholson said. Juneteenth Day is a day to lift Black achievement, she said.
It’s a way to reduce stress, take pride in being Black and encourage Black worth, Nicholson added.
During the press conference, Crowley signed a second piece of legislation. The legislation condemns racial injustice and calls for reforms in Milwaukee County. Furthermore, the legislation asks the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, the Milwaukee County Transit System and the Milwaukee County Circuit Court to report their actions taken to address racial equity goals to the board.
Milwaukee has a long way to go to become the healthiest county, Crowley said, and part of that process includes looking at institutionalized racism.
Nicholson said that she is in support of the resolution. Systemic problems happen across the country, she said. Milwaukee cannot simply acknowledge there are problems, it must act.
The resolution acknowledges the roles that segregation and poverty have played in health outcomes and more. While the resolution won’t fix Milwaukee in its entirety, it is a part of the next step, she said.
Crowley closed the press conference with mention of his recent plan to allocate $47 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security Act funding also known as CARES. If approved, Milwaukee County will have a total of $77 million in CARES funding.