Guest Op-Ed: Juneteenth to July 4th — The Promise Matters

By Phil Giffee

This weekend, we rightfully celebrate the human centered principles upon which our nation was founded, but it is also a moment for reflection, confession, justice and eventually, healing. But healing cannot happen with words alone, that is why the urgent but unfulfilled Promise of July 4th Matters to us all, especially now!

From Juneteenth to July 4th is a mere two weeks, but it’s taking a couple centuries longer for the promise of freedom, equality and opportunity to be more than a belated memo delivered to Black American citizens in our struggling and beloved nation. We need to do much better, faster, so current BLM calls for Re-allocating the Police budget to spending more on services including housing and demilitarizing the way we approach safety and security are small but secure first steps we need to endorse in order to deliver on the promises of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

I know some are offended by (BLM) Black Lives Matter. I’m not. We need to hear their urgency. In our laws, if there are legitimate grievances, and the people cannot get responses, the people have rights to petition the government for redress. That is what these largely peaceful protests are about. I am not defending random looting or the torching of police cars, but righteous anger over repeated and deadly chokeholds, unannounced forced entries, relentless poverty and massive incarceration of young Black men is just not acceptable. We are much the poorer for repressing the talent, skills, passions and beauty in the Black community. Repression, neglect, no longer.

It makes some uncomfortable I know, but meaningful change does not come easy, politically or personally – me either. Certainly the public murders and killings of unarmed Black men and women over these past years give graphic credence to those who think everyone is (or has been) equal and no affirmative responses are required. These are not Black problems. Our fellow citizens did not cause their own lynchings, burn crosses, assassinate leaders, deny mortgages, or ask to live in poverty. Nor are these just policing problems. Our system has been training folks, and ourselves, in this bellicose way for generations. These Blues, men and women are on the front line of order and safety, and we respect them, but true order and safety come through mutual respect, good jobs, solid families, small businesses, low crime rates, affordable housing, decent schools, houses of worship….

Now is a time for re-training. It is likely we all need re-training, re-thinking. Me too. A good deal of the kind of work needed is not the kind of work Police want to do anyway. Fortunately, in Boston, the City is ahead of the game and willing to go further to make the system equitable and safe. Yes, there is a debate about how far, how fast. Locally, we thank Councilor Edwards for working for sophisticated resolutions that meet budget needs as well as the need for re-allocation of resources. We thank the Mayor for his heavy investments in housing and openness to reforms. We encourage continued dialogue and debate on these critical issues.

For NOAH’s part in the racial pandemic amidst the COVID contagion, in alignment with our Mission* we will:

– Listen to and work alongside voices of dissent to better understand problems and potential solutions

– Accept the discomfort that accompanies significant changes; respect the voices of those who are not yet ready

– Promote non-violence in all we do.

– Be inclusive and non-partisan in our approach

– Re-commit ourselves to justice and equality of opportunity

– Stand with those who propose extensions to eviction moratoriums and support lenders and landlords in restructuring debt so no one is harmed

– Push for more housing funds for Rent Relief as well as affordable and workforce housing at the City and State levels

– We respect the flag; respect those who serve; respect those who ‘take a knee’; even respect those who won’t respect those who do.

– Recognizing that discrimination has kept people in poverty for centuries and that there are wide disparities in wealth, we support City/State funding and public/private partnerships which build good schools and systems which will support families and respect women at the same time.

– Women of all cultures have been marginalized and discriminated against forever. Like Black Americans, it took a Constitutional Amendments to permit women and people of color to vote. We cannot forget women are only beginning their journey to full personhood and participation in the life of our nation.

– Since this is a moment focusing on equality, we realize that human rights are for LGBTQ, Trans, Native Americans and others who have faced significant discrimination

– East Boston is half a LatinX community. We will support true immigration reform which encourages a path towards citizenship for our undocumented neighbors. We encourage people to sign up for the 2020 Census so Massachusetts does not lose funding opportunities for resources such as tax credits for housing.

– We will work with others to encourage Everyone to vote, not for a particular party, just vote!

– We will continue to build leaders of all backgrounds in the community so residents can raise their voice and be heard in the democratic process

– We will fund youth environmental work. Young people need to get involved in community affairs, particularly in climate change and environmental activities. After all, it’s their future!

– Young working adults can bring new blood, ideas and capital to a neighborhood, build culture and thrive, but absentee investors and speculators ‘need not apply.’ We will continue to work with the City and other non-profits such as City Life to prevent displacement and protect vulnerable tenants

– Climate Change/Sea-level rise/extreme temperatures threaten the economic well-being and safety of all East Boston residents, no matter their background. We will work with the City, multiple neighborhood associations, small businesses and like-minded non-profits such as Belle Isle Marsh, GreenRoots, Mary Ellen Welch Greenway advocates, Harborkeepers, Eastie Farms, NUBE, UCB and others to preserve the integrity and vitality of our precious neighborhood.

– We will continue to raise funds and spends tens of thousands of dollars to work with our local non-profits to provide Emergency Food Relief for vulnerable or undocumented families in our community thrown out of work by COVID.

– We believe each person has their own interior beauty and God-given attributes, no matter the color of their skin. As Dr Martin Luther King said shortly before he was murdered by a white supremacist (and there are still plenty out there and some in the highest levels of government), “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

I recognize any list is inadequate, but we have to re-start and re-commit to justice and equality. After all, The Flag flies over all of us. It doesn’t belong to any one narrow person’s view or color, and no one is excluded, especially our Black American brothers and sisters who’ve helped build this nation in so many ways and for whom this time is most painful still. Our personal response and national character are at stake. The Declaration tells us we have a sacred duty. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Justice demands we act, now. We need to work together to build the Promise of July 4th.

Blessings on all of us.

Phil Giffee, Executive Director, NOAH

*NOAH’s Mission Statement: NOAH, a community development corporation, promotes equity, community cohesion, environmental justice, and economic resiliency. We increase access to affordable housing, create social and economic opportunities, and empower residents to be leaders of change.

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