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Dayton area leaders reflect on Juneteenth and equity for the Black community moving forward

By Darius Beckham

Community leaders in the Dayton area are reflecting on how they celebrated Juneteenth and how they're working to ensure equity for the Black community moving forward.

The period of reflection comes on the heels of Juneteenth being declared a federal holiday this year. Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the day in 1865 when enslaved African-Americans were informed about their freedom and that the Civil War had ended.

Montgomery County Recorder Brandon McClain said it was important to treat the holiday like all other federal holidays.

"I actually had been keeping in contact with my staff [regarding this]," he said. McClain said he made adjustments so his office could officially close on Juneteenth.

Both Montgomery County and City of Dayton employees received a floating holiday for Juneteenth this year and can now expect the holiday in their regular holiday calendar.

Community activist Daj'za Demmings said she also made intentional time to celebrate the first federally recognized Juneteenth.

"We had an entire weekend planned out with the Coalition on African Liberation – we had a community conversation called 'Reimagining Freedom: The Round Table,'" she said. "And it was an open affinity space to talk about what that looks like for us."

Dayton Public Schools Board member Will Smith said he has always created space to honor his ancestors' freedom by attending community events and discussing the history of Juneteenth with family and friends.

"By acknowledging Juneteenth as a national holiday, it also means acknowledging that there was a sizable gap in the independence of two different groups of Americans," he said.

DPS students were in school until June 29 this year so some schools incorporated Juneteenth history into class projects while others planned events like a Juneteenth march, district officials said in an emailed statement.

The DPS Equity Team will examine the results of an ongoing Equity Audit to determine what changes must be made to close achievement and opportunity gaps. The district also said it will implement practices to reduce punitive outcomes against Black students — especially Black male students — and increase access and exposure to academic opportunities for Black male students.

Montgomery County officials said the county is investing in the YouthWorks program to help keep youth off the streets and give them paid work experience funded by the county. Another Montgomery County initiative is the Female Leadership Academy, which mirrors the Male Leadership Academy, to provide mentorship and opportunities for local teens.

Officials from the City of Dayton said they will receive nearly $138 million from the American Rescue Plan. Part of the funds are allocated for expanding and developing Black and brown businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is also in the process of implementing proposed changes from its Dayton police reform efforts.

In addition to governmental organization's strides to increase equity within the black community, Demmings said she hopes to see more self- and community education regarding Juneteenth. She also said she believes schools should teach critical race theory to create a broader understanding and appreciation for the Juneteenth holiday.

Moving forward, McClain said he wanted more people to embrace having tough conversations in workplace environments about accomplishing inclusion.

"Obviously diversity is the focus, but the goal is to accomplish true inclusion," he noted. "In any type of workplace environment, that happens by having the difficult conversations about not just what makes us alike, but also what makes us different: Our backgrounds, experiences, hopes, dreams and challenges. When we have these difficult conversations about our perspective on life, it allows us to break down barriers."

Smith emphasized the need for government entities and elected officials to recognize their ongoing role in ensuring equity for the Black community.

"Government entities have to recognize that their hands are not free and their hands are not clean of what's happened to Black people throughout the years," he said. "Looking at it and saying, 'Okay yes, the government played a role in some of these things. The government has a role to listen and move in the way that communities want.' And they also have to operate in a space where they don't just commercialize this and make Juneteenth some Hallmark holiday."

"We just have to make sure that this is the beginning of us traveling toward true equity and equality for all people. But this isn't the be all, end all. It's a good start," said McClain.

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