Adrienne Bell for Congress
This year marks 154 years since enslaved people of African decent learned they were finally free from bondage. An estimated 250,000 enslaved persons of African descent resided in Texas at the end of the Civil War. History would have us believe that our ancestors simply toiled and waited for someone to come lift them up out of bondage. From our stories, passed down through the generations, we know that our people have always been on the Freedom side.
On Juneteenth, we are reminded of the promise of freedom, which took three amendments to the constitution to begin to address the disparities in liberty and justice. Despite these amendments, and the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, the full force of Jim Crow and other practices interfered with true access to all that we were entitled to as Black people in this country. Freedom has not always been free. We need a 21st century re-imagining of what freedom, liberty, and justice mean for our communities.
Looking at the 14th District, and the country, in the spirit of freedom, justice, and equity of the first Juneteenth, the powers that be have fallen short of fulfilling the promise of our forebearers. After the first Juneteenth, we saw the birth of independent black communities, such as The Settlement, founded in Texas City in 1867. However, on the whole, we have been denied access to the full promise of freedom that would permit us to thrive and grow, as individuals, and as a community.
In the spring, I worked alongside volunteers from the Texas City African American Historic Preservation Committee, during the “Saving Lincoln Clean Up Day.” The clean up of the Lincoln Auditorium, a once vibrant venue for many functions and community events, including school functions for the all black Woodland Elementary and Lincoln High School before the district was integrated, reaffirmed a strong community legacy. The history of the settlement, going back to its founding by Chisholm Trail Black cowboys shortly after the civil war, is a powerful example of the power of coalition building and self-determination.
It is no coincidence that on this Juneteenth the U.S. House will hold a hearing on reparations, the first time the issue has been addressed in a hearing since 2007. Despite some not believing in reparations or its feasibility, we know the history of our struggle and the continued unfulfilled promise of full freedom, justice, and equity for all. A Commission to Study Reparations Proposals, more commonly known as H.R. 40, was first introduced by former Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) in 1989. Conyers subsequently introduced the act each year he served in Congress. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has taken up the legislation as her own. Understanding the debt owed and mechanisms for addressing persisting inequalities in Healthcare, education, economic development, incarceration, and generational wealth, is necessary to moving forward to full freedom and equity.
Rep. Barbara Jordan once said, “If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority.” These words are still relevant today. We have seen a change in communities that are on the front lines fighting for justice and equity. It is just as vital that we collectively raise our voices, and unite our work, to challenge the systems of oppression around us, and the false narratives being fueled by particular interests.
Each step of my life, I have grounded my work within a value proposition of freedom, justice, and equity. It is a value proposition that is reaffirmed in each conversation I have across this district. When we activate our collective desire to see better for our communities, we know that it is not enough for a select few to do well. Whether it is addressing food insecurity and homelessness, or healthcare, or closing the wealth gap, our communities deserve the freedom to thrive, and need the tools and resources to achieve that goal.
We are at a pivotal moment in our politics. All across the country, people are coming together and engaging in a transformative process to shift the nature of the way things are done fundamentally. Moving forward and building beyond the status quo that has left so many behind requires all of us to work together to achieve the full promise of the day. Preserving our history, nurturing the legacy of our ancestors while reinvesting in community pride is crucial to our collective growth and development. For many of us, the challenges facing our communities are not new.
Building in community, and providing for each other, is one of the simplest and most impactful ways we can set in motion the actions necessary to move forward. Listening to learn and understand, instead of merely listening to respond, goes a long way to understanding what is essential to people and how to build along our shared values.
As we move forward in the spirit and celebration of the day, we carry forward a mandate to see through the full promise of freedom, justice, and liberty. Our work across issues and communities can lead to transformative solutions and opportunity. Advancing conversations, educating each other about pressing issues, sharing our stories, and motivating others into action is so needed as we build for positive change. We are the change we need to see in the world, and it is together that we will turn the tides.
Adrienne Bell is running a grassroots campaign to represent Texas’ 14th Congressional district. You can find more about Adrienne here.