June 19 became a new national holiday —  Juneteenth — honoring the oldest known commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the United States.

In a rare display of consensus, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It then passed through the House of Representatives by a 415–14 vote on June 16 and President Joe Biden promptly signed the bill into law.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the news of freedom, reaching some of the last enslaved men and women in the United States.

We applaud this recognition and despite more than 150 years of since the abolition of slavery, many Black communities still face economic, institutional and social barriers.

Over the past year, communities across the state and nation have grappled with these inequities and how to build a fairer, more just society — and it hasn’t been easy in our divided culture.

A just society is a wonderful ideal on which our country was founded though still not fully realized. We hope this action is truly another step towards a more just society.

June 19 is also the birthday of Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina’s poet laureate and who Gov. Roy Cooper in May reappointed to that position.

Green is a frequent visitor to Ocracoke, and for years she has brought writers groups to the island for inspiration.

For our December 2019 issue after Hurricane Dorian struck and devastated the island a few months earlier, Green wrote the widely circulated To My Ocracoke: A Love Letter from the North Carolina Poet Laureate.

Jaki Shelton Green. Photo: P. Vankevich

Here are some excerpts:

“I have been grieving your losses while celebrating your tenacious will to rise, reclaim, recover, repurpose, and resist. This is why I love you unconditionally. Your arms hold a community of life that becomes legend.

If coastal trails, marshes, and the hammock on the porch at the Crews Inn could talk, you’d already know and understand how deeply I am wooing you back to my heart. I love your rich vibrant heritage, your wild and untamed winds, your sea birds, and the lull of ocean that moves me to write and dance when I’m cruising in your arms.

Over and over again, you have called out to me and my band of writing mermaids to run away from our frenetic paces and sojourn to your maritime views and salty ghosts who guide our pens in the nakedness of your quiet nights. It is here where I remember to breathe deeply.

Green was first appointed North Carolina Poet Laureate in 2018 and is the first African American, and the third woman, to serve as the state’s ambassador for poetry and the spoken word. She has conducted hundreds of public poetry workshops, lectures and readings across North Carolina. “Jaki Shelton Green has used her platform as poet laureate to champion North Carolina’s rich literary traditions in communities across the state,” said D. Reid Wilson, secretary, N.C.

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, in a press release issued by Cooper. “Her emphasis on working with diverse writers and youth has been especially profound and meaningful.” 

“When I was appointed the N.C. Poet Laureate Juneteenth 2018, I dedicated myself to fulfilling the mission to promote and expand appreciation of the literary arts,” Green said in the press release. “My reappointment is a tremendous honor and will support my work plans across the state that were compromised by Covid-19.”

“During her tenure as N.C. Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green has championed poetry’s potential to empower, build bridges and heal,” said Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council.

We believe that sharing of the arts builds community – bridges, if you will.

Building bridges is just what we need, both a physical and spiritual infrastructure in these fraught times.

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