Just last year, the U.S. government enacted legislation designating Juneteenth as an official federal holiday. The team at NCSEA was pleased to see this recognition come to fruition, especially in light of the injustices that have taken place over the past couple of years stemming from the death of George Floyd. As we take this federal holiday to celebrate the accomplishments of influential Black leaders, we also are making sure to reflect and remember the systemic foundations of oppression built on the roots of slavery.
To take a step back – it’s important to understand the meaning behind the Juneteenth holiday and why we celebrate it. As many may remember, on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, setting the foundation for the end of slavery across the country. However, it wasn’t until almost two and a half years later after the confederate army surrendered in the Civil War that word of the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered to slaves in some parts of the country. In fact, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the news to enslaved African Americans that they were indeed free. Since that day, otherwise known as ‘Emancipation Day,’ Juneteenth has been recognized as a holiday but without official federal designation – that is until last year.
While the country has come a long way since the era of slavery, due in large part to the sacrifice and courage of many civil rights leaders over the years, we still have a long way to go to combat racism and system inequalities that exist within our country. NCSEA recognizes the importance of continuing to elevate equity, diversity, and inclusion to ensure that anyone of any background can thrive in this country. Further, these issues of racism and inequality are not just emblematic of society at large. We know that there are lots of opportunities for improvement within the clean energy economy as well. For that reason, we strive to integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion principles into all aspects of our work, provide opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds to excel, and elevate the accomplishments of diverse leaders in this space.
As part of recognizing accomplished diverse leaders, NCSEA featured numerous Black leaders in clean energy as part of an ongoing blog series. This includes the story of our own Dr. Rita Joyner, an incredible leader who has dedicated nearly her entire career to STEM education and clean energy. Dr. Joyner’s story began with witnessing and experiencing some of the inequalities plaguing diverse communities. In her story, she recounts households in her community having to consistently choose between paying for their ever-increasing utility bills or other necessities like food on the table. This experience shaped her career to focus on sustainability and energy programs designed to help low- and moderate-income communities elevate themselves out of poverty, while cleaning up the grid.
We also spoke with Jada Sherman, a recent graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, looking to pursue a career in clean energy. Her concern about energy inequality and the externalities associated with fossil fuels ignited a passion to make a difference in the energy community. She was a standout student at NC A&T, leading to numerous accolades, and a position as an Energy, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow at Solar United Neighbors.
Both of these individuals are truly inspirational and a driving force for the future of the industry. However, we hope to see many more individuals and stories like this as we aspire to build an inclusive and diverse clean energy economy.
Aside from these ongoing efforts to elevate diverse voices and promote equity within our daily programmatic work, NCSEA plans to recognize this year’s Juneteenth holiday by providing the day off for staff to celebrate and give back to the community.
Some of the events our team will be attending over the weekend across the Triangle can be found here. If you’re looking to support the Black community this Juneteenth holiday, check out this list of charitable organizations or local Black-owned businesses.