Remarks by Board President Cynthia McClain-Hill About Juneteenth
Delivered on Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Since the late 1800s, African Americans have marked the end of slavery with an annual celebration, known as Juneteenth. The date received its name by combining June and 19, the actual day in 1865 that Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to deliver the news that all slaves in Texas were free.
Although President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation had officially outlawed slavery (in the confederates states only) almost 2 ½ years earlier, enforcement of the proclamation generally relied on the advance of union troops. Texas being the most remote of the slave states had a low presence of union troops and as a result, the enforcement there had been slow and mostly nonexistent before General Granger’s announcement.
Juneteenth celebrates the strength and resilience of Black people in this country and the long and arduous road toward recognition of our humanity. The significance of Juneteenth for all African Americans including the more than 1,500 black employees here at LADWP, has grown over the last 150 years and currently 45 states and the District of Columbia mark the day as a state holiday or observance. Last week the United States Congress passed a bill to designate the day as a national holiday and on June 17th, President Biden signed it into law making it the 11th national holiday recognized annually by the federal government.
One year ago our Mayor used the occasion of Juneteenth to issue Executive Directive Number 27 as a means of advancing racial justice and inclusion in every city department. He also named the City's first-ever Chief Racial Equity Officer. In his remarks, noting the pain and anger that had manifested itself over many weeks on our streets and across the nation, he took concrete steps forward to achieve racial justice, equity and parity in Los Angeles.
And one year ago, as part of acknowledging the challenge inherent in this Department taking up Mayor Garcetti’s Directive, I referred to the author James Baldwin and his observation that, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
In that spirit, I am so proud to be the President of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners at this moment in its history, and to serve with the remarkable women that form the balance of the Board, each of whom has made clear their commitment to advancing the interest of justice in every faucet of our work.
I am also deeply proud of the men and women of this Department, who over the course of the last twelve months have, in ways large and small, demonstrated tremendous strength and resilience in the face of a deadly pandemic and purpose in doing our part to chart a course toward equity and inclusion.
Whether it’s working hand in hand with IBEW to expand access to employment through the Utility Pre-Craft Training Program, a renewed commitment to collaboration with community based-organizations, the formal establishment of the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, or the determination to ensure that the transition to 100% renewable energy is accomplished an equitable manner that lifts and strengthens underserved and communities of color, DWP is walking the talk and showing what it means to work toward building a strong LA through service, innovation and opportunity. The credit for this lies squarely with its leadership, at every level and all of our employees who have taken on this challenge with an open heart and commitment to purpose.