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Juneteenth Celebration and Juneteenth Action

By Helene Stebbins, Executive Director,
Alliance for Early Success

I had the opportunity to visit both Birmingham, Alabama, and Bismarck, North Dakota, last summer, and I was reminded about the amazing, beautiful diversity that exists in America. At the Alliance for Early Success, we celebrate this vast spectrum of voices and life experiences—across states, races, and political parties—because we believe differences make us a better nation. A more effective network of state early childhood advocates. A stronger organization.

So today we join our allies across the country to celebrate Juneteenth—our other Independence Day— when 250,000 enslaved Texans learned about their emancipation. We’re celebrating the arrival of the news, but we cannot celebrate the two-year delay in translating the proclamation’s promises into tangible policies and practices aimed at ending chattel slavery. Today, almost 160 years later, our country continues to work towards fully realizing these commitments. While we have dramatically improved the speed of communication, true freedom from legal, political, and social restrictions for Black Americans remains elusive. In fact, we see some of our leaders and policymakers backing away from the hard work of building communities where everyone is seen, valued, and has the supports they need to succeed.

So, for us, on Juneteenth, it’s important to talk about commitment to action that makes true emancipation a reality.

We’ve been firmly committed to equity-centered action over the past five years—bringing diverse voices together to exchange knowledge across state lines, political divides, and lived experiences. We are learning from the failures and elevating the successes.

And in 2024, that action means rethinking our annual meeting of state grantees and repurposing it as a journey to learn more about how the legacy of slavery is still alive in the systems and the structures of society, and to reflect on the actions we can take to change that. In October, 200 of us will gather in Montgomery, Alabama, for the Alabama Experience, a shared journey that will incorporate the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Sites and many of the city’s other powerful spaces that explore our nation’s history of racial injustice and movement toward civil rights.

But most of all, we’ll begin planning action—the ways early childhood policy advocates can actively dismantle systemic racial barriers, both in our internal organizational policies and practices, and in our policy advocacy work on behalf of children and families.

The Alliance’s theory of change centers “Elevating Antiracist Priorities” and explicitly tells our team, our grantees, and the state policy advocacy community overall that we believe active antiracism is essential to early childhood policy advocacy. The Alabama Experience will be another powerful support that we hope catalyzes new equity-centered practices in agenda setting, coalition work, and organizational development.

This Juneteenth, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating freedom and recommit to being real-life, real-world agents of true emancipation.

Helene Stebbins is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Early Success.

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