Equity advocates at the Juneteenth Freedom Walk in Falmouth call for continued reform

·4 min read

Editor's note: Changes have been made to this article, including Sarah Moore's title, Brian Chad Starks' academic credential and clarifying the six institutions represented on the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee.

FALMOUTH — Rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the folks who attended the Juneteenth Freedom Walk at Highfield Gardens on Sunday.

The collaborative effort between the Gardens, the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee and the Falmouth Public Library was the first event in what Garden Program Director Cedith Copenhaven expects will be long running.

Juneteenth is Independence Day for African Americans, said Brian Chad Starks, a social justice advocate and founder of BCS and Associates. Starks, who has a doctorate in criminology, was in Woods Hole to give a talk, “Tell the Truth About Independence in America,” at the invitation of the Advisory Committee.

Celebrating the abolition of slavery

“Juneteenth is a celebration when we were actually free from slavery,” he said.

Starks, who is Black, said emancipation, “was supposed to happen in 1863, but it took place in Galveston, Texas in June, 1865, more than two years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“We own that day just as white Americans own July 4, because that was not when Black Americans were free in 1776.”

Federal and state policies from the country’s founding have thwarted Black Americans in seeking education, jobs, and housing, Starks said.

“Think about access and resources from an equity space,” he said. “Can you imagine marginalized people coming to Woods Hole as community scientists and being a part of Woods Hole? We need leaders in those positions to start thinking differently about how to increase diversity.”

Copenhaven and Sarah Moore, development coordinator of foundation relations at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, stood underneath a wide tent greeting visitors and distributing literature on Sunday.

“We want a diverse group to contribute to that community,” Moore said, referring to the six institutions represented on the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee: Marine Biological Laboratory; Sea Education Association; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center; United States Geological Survey; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Woodwell Climate Research Center (formerly Woods Hole Research Center).

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'Working on being diverse'

Jan Elliott, a retired music and dance teacher, called federal recognition of the holiday a game changer.

"To think of ways we can honor and support and respect different ethnicities and races that are not white,” she said.

Elliott is a member of a diversity committee that she said had as its mission statement a sentence that wasn’t quite “appropriate.” The committee eventually changed wording to say we were "working on being" diverse, rather than "being" diverse, she said.

"We’ve been acting on making it a reality,” Elliott said. “New members have great ideas. Their voices are good. We’re just getting started.”

Chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at WHOI, Natalie Nevarez, said her organization is working to tackle the relative lack of diversity at Woods Hole.

“There’s a long history of exclusion from those spaces,” she said.

Steps the organization could take that would help that goal include supporting people of color in their education, including graduate education, so they could come to WHOI, feel included, be successful and thrive, she said.

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Walk for Freedom contemplative strolls

The Freedom Walks, including a children's StoryWalk, "Juneteenth Jamboree," was designed for participants to consider the ways that macro policies have detrimentally affected Blacks. The following information was taken from the Library of Congress' "African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection."

• The Emancipation Proclamation was first announced in 1863 and took two years to reach Blacks in Texas.

• It wasn’t until 1875 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by Congress. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1883.

• In 1886 the American Federation of Labor was formed, but most Blacks were excluded from membership.

• In 1896 the Supreme Court decided in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" facilities satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment. The amendment, adopted during the Reconstruction, granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans..

• In 1922, a federal anti-lynching bill was killed by filibuster in the US Senate.

• Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Starks said it is important to think of such systemic policies as ways to alienate Blacks and withold resources from them.

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“That is impacting me, my generation, my family, and my community and that's the change we are asking for,” he said. “We need it done on a macro level. Woods Hole is taking great efforts to do some macro level changes.”

Contact Denise Coffey at dcoffey@capecodonline.com.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Diversity, equity, inclusion called for at Juneteenth Cape Cod events