RACINE – Lesia Hill-Driver had a vision for June 16 that went beyond just heritage and a BBQ day.
“The thought was not only that we need to celebrate in this way, but we also need to educate and bring people together in the community and teach things that will make us a stronger people,” she said.
Hill-Driver is the director of the John Bryant Community Center, the headquarters of Racine’s June 16th, which is being celebrated with a week of events that include courses in art, history, health and financial independence. A kick-off event was held on Saturday.
Hill-Driver said one of the quotes she stands on is, “Mind is the key that sets the prisoner free.”
The week was made possible by the formation of the Juneteenth Day Committee, which began meeting in February.
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Hill-Driver said the theme of the week was ‘We are stronger together’.
“As a unit, it can only get better,” she said of the events designed to bring the black community together. “We can only do more because we are united and moving forward together.”
Hill-Driver said the week-long event is historic — just a year after President Joe Biden signed legislation making June 16 a federal holiday — and encouraged all members of the community to attend the celebration.
The first event of the week was the Breast Cancer Awareness Walk organized by the Sisters Network of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Keeshia T. Jones — herself a breast cancer survivor and president of the Sisters Network of Southeastern Wisconsin — organized the walk to raise awareness of the importance of monthly self-exams and annual mammograms.
“30 to 40 years ago, hearing about breast cancer was a death sentence,” she said. “There are so many treatment options now that it doesn’t have to be – especially if it’s caught early.”
“We do a lot for others in terms of our families, our work and our church,” she said. “But to provide for our families, we must provide for ourselves.”
Black women are slightly less likely to develop breast cancer than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, black women die from breast cancer at a 40% higher rate than white women.
Jones said there are disparities in healthcare that contribute to this number. Black women are typically diagnosed later, which brings with it the potential for the cancer to metastasize, a more difficult diagnosis that requires more intensive treatment, Jones said.
According to an article published in Hopkins-Bloomberg Public Health by Jenn Walton, the number one health issue facing black women is “the system.”
Jones said if black women don’t ask the questions they have properly, their concerns will be dismissed as if the question doesn’t matter, and they won’t have that very important early diagnosis.
She encouraged women to take action when something doesn’t feel right, and reiterated that women know their own bodies.
“Don’t put it off,” she said. “Make it a priority.”
Jones said Sisters Network Inc. is excited to partner with the Juneteenth Day Committee for a week of events designed to strengthen the black community.
One of the main sponsors of Racine’s Juneteenth Week was JP Morgan Chase, who will be offering financial literacy classes this week.
Annette Washington of JP Morgan Chase is the community manager for Kenosha and Racine Counties who spoke to the Journal Times about opportunities being offered to increase the community’s understanding of financial literacy.
She said based on the company’s commitment to racial justice, the time was right.
Washington said she was out and about in the community when she was “fortunate enough to meet Lesia,” who shared her vision for a broader June 16 celebration.
Washington said the classes were organized with the partnership of Divine 9, an African-American sorority, and will cover a variety of topics from home-buying workshops to the dangers of predatory lenders, credit and the basics of managing money .
She said some people use slots for ATM cards and a variety of other money management needs because the location is convenient, but that convenience costs them fees.
The courses help people learn how to properly build their credit score so they are better able to buy a car or house.
The classes can help people know their options.
The schedule of financial literacy courses can be viewed here: CityOfRacine.org/ParksRec/Events/Juneteenth
Racine’s week-long June 16 celebration kicks off with photos and video