To the editor:
On Aug. 7, roughly 155 years after Union soldiers liberated the last remaining American slaves in Galveston, Texas, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago agreed to offer Juneteenth as an optional holiday for employees to observe.
In doing so, it became the one of the first governmental bodies in Illinois to allow its employees time to reflect on both our country’s discriminatory origins and the strides towards justice that we have since taken.
The MWRD, a special‐purpose government body which focuses primarily on wastewater reclamation and the mitigation of flooding, is unique in that it stands entirely separate from Chicago local government. This autonomy has allowed it to have extraordinary freedom for its civil engineering endeavors, most notably, the 1900 reversal of the Chicago river and the ongoing Tunnel and Reservoir Plan. The MWRD’s Juneteenth resolution, which was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners, was another expression of this autonomy.
Although Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday in 47 states, it has not yet been enacted in Illinois. There is pending legislation sponsored by Rep. Thaddeus Jones in the Illinois House of Representatives, to observe Juneteenth National Freedom Day state‐wide. The bill, which would make Juneteenth a full-fledged holiday observed on June 19 each year (it currently falls, arbitrarily, on the third Saturday of June), is currently in committee.
Last June, Broadview, Illinois, passed n ordinance that officially recognized the holiday for all of the village’s municipal workers. The ordinance was a monumental first step for our state. Although Broadview is a small village of less than 8,000 residents, it can help set the standard for others.
Juneteenth calls attention to the ways in which equity and justice have been delayed and denied to Black Americans. Those who possess the resources to reinvent the infrastructure of our nation—government officials—are the same individuals who must grapple with and understand these continued injustices.
Juneteenth can be a vehicle for that understanding.
Kimberly Neely Du Buclet
Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District