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Wesley Center Members Talk About Freedom During Juneteenth

The Wesley Community Center of Dayton talked about the ongoing process for freedom at last weekend's Juneteenth Festival.
The Wesley Community Center of Dayton talked about the ongoing process for freedom at last weekend's Juneteenth Festival.

June 19, 1865 marks the day slavery was abolished in the United States. One hundred fifty-three years later, people across the country continue to celebrate this victory and recognize there is more work to be done.

Dr. James Dobbins, longtime Dayton Wesley Community Center member, says Juneteenth represents an ongoing need to fight for basic freedoms.

“It signifies a greater issue, which is that freedom is a process, it’s not just an event,” Dobbins says. “

Voting is the one way where the average citizen can truly participate in power and the deliberation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But the right to vote in Ohio is in jeopardy. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Ohio can take voters off registration rolls if they do not return a mailed address confirmation form — and then do not vote for four years. Wesley Center Executive Director Yvette Kelly-Fields says the court decision needs to be challenged.

“When you start to roll back the ability for people to have a voice...through purging voter registrations...or gerrymandering, so that certain groups have leverage over other groups to be able to enact certain laws, rules, overturn laws -- that’s the issue that in 2018 we have to actively work against,” Kelly-Fields says. “Because if not, the whole point of having voting rights will be null and void.”Kelly-Fields says other organizations in the area are actively working against the Supreme Court’s decision. The Wesley Center will make that information available to its members.

“We’re going to be sharing all the information to encourage people to get involved,” Kelly-Fields says. “That if this is an issue that...you have concerns about, we want to help connect them to things that will allow them to take action.”

Dobbins says another way to take action is to get involved with voter education and registration and knocking on doors for candidates. 

“That is what is going to make the difference for who holds the reigns and the levers of power and authority in the country and in the communities where you live,” Dobbins says.

Kelly-Fields and Dobbins both say the power and authority in the Emancipation Proclamation was only one part in the process for freedom. They say it’s a fight that continued through the civil rights movement of the 1960s to today.

“The fact that a lot of things that should have happened immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation...when you get down to the 1960s, it was an effort to go back and get things that were supposed to be given -- and were promised -- in the 1860s,” Kelly-Fields says.

“I’m 72 years old,” Dobbins says. “I remember traveling through the segregated South. I remember my sister being a Freedom Rider. I remember my brother being the first African American admitted to a closed trade union in the country, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in 1967. It took that long...for African Americans to break into that kind of economic upward mobility.”

Reaching that kind of upward mobility is exactly why the Wesley Center holds a Juneteenth celebration every year. 

“We took on Juneteenth to be part of a continuum of commemorative events all year long so that we can keep this in the conscious mind of people to always be aware, to not forget...so that we can continue to fight for and advocate for justice and the continued part of freedom,” Kelly-Fields says.

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