It is Juneteenth 2022, a holiday, and I am sharing my reality with some of the greatest people living under the worst circumstances.
Watch Shawanna Vaughn talk about New York public housing and government accountability:
What Is Juneteenth?
But, first, let's reflect on Juneteenth and its history. Juneteenth proclaims historic change and respect for the freedom finally offered by the Proclamation of Independence (the Emancipation Proclamation) in 1863. Slaves were free to own their lives and make choices based on old hopes of survival and movement. However, in Texas, a Confederate state, the Proclamation was not enforced until after General Robert E. Lee surrendered in the Civil War in June 1865, two years later. A quarter of a million slaves learned that they should have been freed two years earlier. For two years they worked, slaved, took beatings and survived poor living conditions in hopes of a better life.
Juneteenth 2022 And The Public Housing Crisis
Fast forward to Juneteenth 2022 and review how the generations that follow have progressed. Yes, we have brick and mortar, heat and electricity, and we choose (in most cases) where we live, where we work and what we eat. But is this as good as it gets? Are these the intended benefits of freedom? People are living in high rises and apartment buildings largely in disrepair. This is the ceiling in a large New York high rise less than three years ago.
Water leaks through cement and brick just as it did in the slave shanty. Now we have issues with lead in buildings that should have been removed years ago. Lead can affect the lives of residents. But even today, he who owns the building is the master of the slaves. I wonder if our ancestors imagined that the neglect and indignant treatment of certain classes would still exist 159+ years later.
Demand Change For Public Housing: A NYCHA Call To Action On Juneteenth
I will pay my respects to the history of Juneteenth by working on a landscape very different from the fields worked by slaves. We will clean up the grass and waste outside our building because we are free to do so. We don’t own the building, we don’t own the lawn, but we care about how far we have come. We will continue to fight for and support better conditions for each of us.
What I need you to know is that freedom isn't free and there's a cost for liberation. Change only comes through sacrifice and demand. I am demanding a better life for children and families. But within that we have to create the space to take on the challenge. Even when nobody rises, we must fix our own houses, take care of our own grounds and prepare to file legal paperwork to own the very apartments that we live in.
Public housing is prime real estate in the city with an $8 billion surplus that we've never had yet. We've cut funding to public housing and mental health services and education. Let's take a look at how much of that needs to go to be funded to fix Niger instead of the privatization. Now it is on us, the residents of NYCHA, to galvanize legally all the way to the Supreme Court for ownership. Let's get to moving.
Shawanna E. Vaughn, founder of the nonprofit Silent Cry, is running to represent the 70th District (Harlem) in New York's State Assembly. Vote for your New York state and local representatives in the primary elections on June 28, 2022. For more information, visit vote.nyc.
To contact Greg Russ, Chair and CEO of NYCHA, submit comments through his digital form or contact the office directory by phone at 212-306-3000.
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Featured image: Historical Harlem (C) New York Public Library