Prosperity for All: Honoring the Legacy of Juneteenth

Op-Ed Written by Jade Davis, Vice President of External Affairs, Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority

The diversity of our people — in culture, industry and interests — is what makes our city, the Great Lakes region and, moreover, our country truly great. Our mission at the Port of Cleveland is to spur job creation and economic vitality in Cuyahoga County, building a prosperous future. With that in mind, the Port celebrates Juneteenth (June 19) not as a political statement, but rather as a sincere celebration of freedom and the subsequent journey of the African American community.

For those unfamiliar with Juneteenth, it honors the date when slaves in Texas were informed of both their freedom and the end of the Civil War. Slaves in Confederate states of rebellion originally were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect Jan. 1, 1863. But it was not until Union Gen. Gordon Granger read Field Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 that the last slave communities in rebellion states were informed of their newfound freedom. Thus, Juneteenth became Freedom Day within African American communities throughout America. In 2020, as our nation reckons with the ongoing burdens that systemic racism has placed on Black people in America, celebrating Juneteenth and what it stands for is more important than ever.

My perspectives on this issue were shaped as I was raised in a working-class African American family in Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood. My parents were incredible role models and sacrificed so our family could have a better life. They were steadfast supporters of my education and pushed for me to achieve. But they also were open, frank and honest about how racism, and its historical weight, would be a constant presence and challenge in my life.

As a husband and father now raising my own family, and as someone who has achieved education, titles and success that my ancestors were denied, despite my success, I sadly find that those same lessons my parents taught me 30 years ago are ones that I must still pass on to my own children today. But the recent swell of public engagement on systemic racism and its effects gives me hope for a better future.

I am also fortunate to work for an institution that is focused on the prosperity for all within Northeast Ohio. The Port of Cleveland is at the forefront of Cleveland’s economic well-being through its work in maritime, trade, logistics, public finance and environmental efforts. But as a major institution in a racially majority-minority city, the Port’s board of directors and leadership team have a clearly stated, long-standing focus on addressing the results of systemic racism deeply rooted in socioeconomic disparities, education inequalities, public health disparities and structural career barriers. Simply put, the Port believes that our entire community’s well-being must be at the forefront of our decision-making for us to achieve our mission.

In solidarity, advancement and support of directly improving the quality of life for all Northeast Ohio residents, and not leaving people behind who have long been on the margins, the Port of Cleveland put action behind words, embarking on various initiatives outlined in our strategic plan developed in 2017 that continue to address inequities:

Created equitable opportunity in enterprise. We initiated aggressive minority and female enterprise procurement goals for Port-affiliated projects and operations, creating new opportunities to nurture and support growth for economically and socially diverse businesses.

Promoted residents’ prosperity. We mandated prevailing wage to encourage equitable pay, ensuring that all workers on Port-related projects are paid fairly for their work.

Directly supported career pipelines. We invest in education initiatives that directly prepare Cleveland Metropolitan School District students for college or careers through the Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School, encouraging a diverse future workforce of scientists, engineers, pilots, technicians and labor.

Addressed public health issues. We have fought vigorously to protect Lake Erie drinking water from legacy contaminants that threaten public health and whose effects are felt more greatly in impoverished and minority communities.

As vice president of external affairs at the Port, I’m proud of our organization’s intentional efforts to invest in equitable practices. However, the Port’s leadership acknowledges that there is still much more work to do. The current conversation may be uncomfortable for some, but we can’t let our comfort distract us from the real issue. People are dying — physically, financially and spiritually — because the status quo has simply not resulted in fully addressing the issues at hand. Therefore, the Port of Cleveland will continue to take actions to move our community forward.

This month and going forward, let us all reflect on the Juneteenth holiday and then continue the critical public dialogue and actions now happening to move our country toward true equity for all.