Some may ask, why is Juneteenth so important in our nation and at Mercy Home? by Janice Aris,
Juneteenth is a newly recognized federal holiday designated by Congress and President Joe Biden which falls on June 19. However, Mercy Home recognizes the historic event all month long. Serving in my role as Executive Director, I am so honored and proud to announce that with the full support of its Board of Directors, Juneteenth is now designated as a paid holiday for all employees, celebrated this Monday.
Some may ask, why is Juneteenth so important in our nation and at Mercy Home? The short but important answer is Juneteenth commemorates the freedom of the last enslaved people of African descent in the United States. On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil War ended- federal troops were deployed to Galveston, Texas to free 250,000.
Recent data documents that Black and Brown communities make up a preponderance of the workforce engaged as Direct Support Professionals supporting individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Yet, those of us who have worked in this field for many years, have witnessed an erosion of fiscal priorities which support two marginalized communities (those with I/DD and people of African descent).
Currently and unfortunately, the I/DD field does not adequately compensate workers for the duties and responsibilities performed. So, while the fight is no longer for freedom or an end to slavery, a fight remains for a living and fair wage for Black and Brown communities who support a vulnerable community. This fight and right are also in keeping with the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy founded out of a deep concern for people who are poor. I am so proud to be a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy and have a front-row seat and witness their commitment, work, and advocacy to seeking a more just and inclusive world as we learn from the past and create opportunities for a more just future.
The longer answer is each day, many employees of I/DD providers across our nation are asked to invest in the care of those living with I/DD. Willingly they arrive at their place of work, make daily sacrifices to be present, and make a daily investment in the lives of those they care for. So, in celebrating Juneteenth, it is also a sincere investment of front-line employees, clinical and managerial staff who give so much of themselves.
Lastly, what an amazing journey it continues to be, as all races and ethnic groups join in support of people with I/DD, and how impactful is this act of celebration and remembrance for all employees, as we include diversity, equity, and inclusion within our programs and services. Mercy Home looks forward to observing this upcoming day of reflection. We are committed to advancing a coordinated and easily navigated system of quality services for individuals with I/DD that preserve dignity and independence, with a particular emphasis on I/DD and Black & Brown communities that have been historically underserved and underrepresented. For all those who give of themselves daily to improve the lives of others I hope to feed your spirit, feed your soul, and shroud you with dignity by honoring and acknowledging your resilience while you tirelessly perform challenging work and remain always dedicated. We celebrate the special significance of Juneteenth for Black Americans and seek to elevate the voices and experiences of caregivers to inform our organization’s efforts, establish important dialogue, and create systems change.