This week marks three years since President Biden signed into proclamation Juneteenth Day of Observance and 159 years since Union troops, under the leadership of U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to ensure all enslaved people were free. This was more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. These significant moments in our recent and not-so-distant past demonstrate our country’s potential for healing but also highlight that justice and equality for all is a hard-won fight that is not linear.

Just a little over a year after the murder of George Floyd and months of global racial justice protests, the President called “upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.” Fast forward to today, where if I look across the Purpose Built footprint (we are in 14 states), every state but two have introduced anti-DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) legislation in the last couple of years that will make it incredibly difficult if not impossible to acknowledge and discuss the origins of Juneteenth.

On a human level, I can emotionally understand the discomfort with acknowledging what is otherwise unconscionable. On a political level, I can intellectually understand how squashing acknowledgment of our country’s “original sin” can maintain a power (im)balance. However, the failure to recognize and understand what happened in 1619, in 1865, throughout our country’s existence, and even still today, limits our ability to heal and move forward stronger together. While we may not be the people creating these policies, we are all obligated to mitigate the impact. Our collective restoration and healing depend on us all leaning into the truth about our history by being open and honest about the past and, in many cases, the present.

So, where do we go from here? What does this moment invite or encourage us to do? Following the advice of Michael McAfee, president of PolicyLink, I am leaning into love. Not love just for love’s sake or to avoid or mask the harshness of a reality many of us live in. Instead, love in the sense of a “radical love of all people: to acknowledge the inherent dignity and worth of every person, and to act in service of their flourishing.” McAfee shares these insights in a recent Stanford Social Innovation Review essay about “Love is the Key to Democracy.” I interpret his guidance in the same spirit as James Baldwin’s, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” If America is to be indeed that “shining city on a hill,” we must foster environments where everyone can feel and experience belonging, where our authentic selves, unique histories, and cultures can be accepted and celebrated. I think fostering that degree of belonging means we have reached the highest level of existence.

Even though the legislative backslide we are experiencing from 2020 is disheartening, now is not the time to lose hope. We must lean into fighting for America’s ideals. We know the promise and potential of the United States. Anything good we’ve done in this country, we’ve done it together – and with persistence. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” fought for decades to make the day a federal holiday.

Our work is happening all over the country in “blue” and “red” states because we share the common belief that prosperity starts with place. And when I view our work through the lens of our purpose – why we are here and why our work matters – I also understand we are coming together because of a love for people, our fundamental human potential, and the possibility that we might be able to push America to reach its ideals one neighborhood at a time. The fact that we are imperfect in doing this work shouldn’t stop us from trying to achieve what we know is possible and necessary.

This Juneteenth, I will reflect on our progress, the distance we have yet to travel, and what is required of me if I know things will only get worse if we do not make them better.

In service,
Carol R. Naughton, CEO
Purpose Built Communities