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The Cleveland VOTES team share their liberation heroes for Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, enslaved people were declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. Over the years Juneteenth celebrations spread beyond Texas and the South as Black families migrated. And then in 2021, in response to decades of activism, President Joe Biden signed the law making Juneteenth a federal holiday .


Every year the Cleveland VOTES team does something to honor the spirit of the Juneteenth, which--we believe--is a civic holiday. This year we are honoring our "liberation heroes," people (past and present) who we believe embody the ideals of equality and freedom.


 

Erika Anthony

Executive Director


What liberation hero do you want to elevate for Juneteenth this year?

Ella Baker


How do they embody the Juneteenth ideals of equality and freedom?

Ella Baker was a brilliant civil rights activist and leader, who was deeply committed to economic justice and collective planning. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. In New York City and the South, she worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr.


There are many qualities that I admire about Ms. Baker, but most notably her commitment to developing community leaders. Baker criticized “traditional” charismatic leadership–instead she promoted grassroots organizing, radical democracy, and the ability of the oppressed to understand their worlds and advocate for themselves.


What is your favorite quote from them?

“Give light, and people will find the way.”



 

Lique Gates

Senior Strategist


What liberation hero do you want to elevate for Juneteenth this year?

James Baldwin


How do they embody the Juneteenth ideals of equality and freedom?

Baldwin was an acclaimed writer that revolutionized the way Black Americans explored themes throughout history. Baldwin often raised complex questions through stories that touched subjects around sexuality, masculinity, race, and class, which often advanced the narrative on how we approach them. Many of his works were published in the height of two very important political movements (Civil Rights + Gay Liberation), and though he was often criticized, he never backed down from his truth.


At the age of 24, and feeling discouraged with the current turmoil in America, he ventured to Paris and settled. From across the pond, he still managed to deliver very powerful works and even found love. Some of my favorites include I Am Not Your Negro, GoTell It On The Mountain, If Beale Street Could Talk + Notes of a Native Son.


What is your favorite quote from them?

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

 

Tacha Sako

Operations Administrator


What liberation hero do you want to elevate for Juneteenth this year?

Afeni Shakur


How do they embody the Juneteenth ideals of equality and freedom?

Afeni Shakur was an American political activist and member of the Black Panther Party. Shakur was always unapologetically herself and stood up for Black people who were othered (even within the Black community). A notable example of her courage is in 1969 when she and twenty other Black Panthers were arrested and charged with several counts of conspiracy to bomb police stations and other public places in New York. Charges brought against her and the other members of the Black Panther Party were attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to bomb buildings, and conspiracy. Shakur represented herself at trial, interviewing several witnesses and arguing in court. Her statements and questioning of the government infiltrators during the trial are now credited with helping to expose the FBI's corruption and help save the “Panther 21.”


Shakur faced a lot of adversity, but through all that she fought for her freedom against the state and WON. That is badass. Imagine a system telling you over and over again that not only will you not be free, we will put our foot on your neck. And she said NO! That’s why she’s my liberation hero.


What is your favorite quote from them?

“Trust me, you can't change anything without causing some degree of disruption. It's impossible– that is exactly what change is. Some people are uncomfortable with the disruption that change causes, but the disruption is necessary if anything is going to change.”

 

Yugan Sakthi

Democracy Fellow


What liberation hero do you want to elevate for Juneteenth this year?

Fannie Lou Hamer


How do they embody the Juneteenth ideals of equality and freedom?

In rural Mississippi, where an overwhelming majority of farm owners were white, and where rural Black folk were often sharecroppers on White land, Fannie Lou Hamer made a tremendously successful effort to feed and dignify Black farmers. She created the Freedom Farm Cooperative and kept over 1,500 families fed with this cooperatively Black-owned farm.



Hamer understood that food security and land security meant that Black farmers could have a level of autonomy and freedom that they weren’t able to as sharecroppers. I am inspired by the way she set up entities that took on lives of their own, like subsidized housing programs, education programs, nationwide collaboration, and more.


What is your favorite quote from them?

“When I liberate myself, I liberate others.”



 

Robin Turner

Civic Engagement Strategist


What liberation hero do you want to elevate for Juneteenth this year?

Angela Davis


How do they embody the Juneteenth ideals of equality and freedom?

Angela Davis is an American Marxist and feminist political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She is a model for what it means to be a public and engaged intellectual dedicated to what she calls “protracted struggles,” or the pitfalls of the particular version of democracy represented by U.S. capitalism.



Davis has also shown a lot of bravery when it comes to staying true to her ideals. In the 60s and 70s, she was known as a radical feminist, activist, and a member of the U.S. Communist Party, despite American hostility towards communism at the time. As Davis got older, her commitment to liberation never wavered. In 1997, for example, she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison–industrial complex.


What is your favorite quote from them?

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change–I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

 

Brianna Zgodinski

Communications + Narrative Strategist

What liberation hero do you want to elevate for Juneteenth this year?

Arleesha Wilson


How do they embody the Juneteenth ideals of equality and freedom?

Arleesha Wilson, Esq. is a practicing attorney in Cleveland, OH who owns her own law firm. This is a remarkable accomplishment since–due to continued discrimination in the legal profession–only 3% of legal partners in the United States are women of color. Besides breaking racial and gender barriers in her field, Arleesha fights daily for the legal rights of Clevelanders. Wilson’s mission is to close “the justice gap” one client at a time by helping them access legal services they can use. Her law office focuses on tenant/landlord rights and bankruptcy litigation, with most of her clients unable to pay the standard retainer fee for a lawyer. Wilson’s services have been especially valuable and popular due to the increase in evictions that has concurred with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.



I don’t think true equality and freedom can occur without access to affordable housing for all. And then once that housing has been acquired, it should be legally protected by certain guaranteed rights. It might be said, then, that by standing in the gap and protecting the housing rights of her clients, Ms. Wilson acts as a bridge to liberation. And that role should be celebrated!


What is your favorite quote from them?

“Culture is very important to me, and I have always found that I was not someone who just fit the mold. I felt like I wanted to create an environment where someone like me could exist without ruffling feathers.”

 

You can read more about the history of Juneteenth here.

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