Rep. Mizuno, Sen. Wakai Support Coalition to make Juneteenth a State Holiday
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – In the wake of this summer’s racial unrest brought on by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, who on August 23, was shot seven times and paralyzed by a Wisconsin police officer, Hawaiʻi’s first African-American Miss Hawaiʻi USA, Samantha Neyland, is leading a coalition of advocates who are urging the Hawaiʻi Legislature to pass legislation that will recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday.
This past June, 46 states across the U.S. celebrated Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865 - the end of African American enslavement in the United States. The Aloha State was not one of them. In fact, Hawai’i remains just one of four states that does not designate Juneteenth as a state holiday (Congressional Research Service).
"The ongoing instances of police brutality against unarmed black men and women across the country has left me, like many in the African American community, feeling hurt, angry, and emotionally exhausted by the overwhelming prevalence of systemic racism in our society," said Neyland. "We must all do our part to challenge the racist framework surrounding our communities. Change begins with acknowledgement. It is long overdue for Hawaiʻi to honor the Aloha spirit and stand with the other 46 states that have chosen to make Juneteenth an annual, celebratory day of remembrance."
Hawaiʻi For Juneteenth, comprises elected officials, nonprofits and civil-rights activists, including: the Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the Honolulu NAACP, the African American Association on Maui as well as the majority of Maui, Hawaiʻi, Kauaʻi and Honolulu County Council members. The group has been working to successfully pass local county resolutions. On August 18, the Maui County Council unanimously passed a resolution to designate June 19 as a county holiday moving forward.
Neyland’s efforts have garnered the support of Senator Glenn Wakai (D-15) and Representative John Mizuno (D-28) who will sponsor and introduce bills when the Hawaiʻi Legislature reconvenes in January, 2021.
“I very much look forward to working with Miss Neyland and her growing coalition on this timely initiative,” said Senator Wakai. “Come January, I’m confident my colleagues in Legislature will act as well as stand in solidarity with Hawaiʻi’s African American business leaders, tourists, military personnel and community members by voting to give Juneteenth the full recognition it deserves.”
“I applaud Miss Neyland for utilizing her title and platform to bring about positive change and am pleased she is bringing this to the Legislature’s attention.” said Representative Mizuno. “Hawaiʻi is recognized globally for its cultural diversity which defines us as a people and does not divide us. Our spirit of Aloha unites us for the betterment of all people; nonetheless we must not grow complacent. As people of Hawaiʻi, we can no longer pretend that systemic racism and unconscious bias is only a problem on the mainland. I believe this bill displays our Aloha spirit and am honored to introduce it for the upcoming legislative session.”
Hawai’i has a proud history of being on the forefront of racial and social justice. As early as 1852 the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi wrote into law that: “Slavery shall, under no circumstances whatsoever, be tolerated in the Hawaiian Islands; whenever a slave shall enter Hawaiian territory he shall be free, no person who imports a slave or slaves, into the King’s dominions shall ever enjoy any civil or political rights.”
Neyland is no stranger to racism herself. After winning the Miss Hawai’i Teen USA competition back in 2013, Neyland became the first African American woman to claim the title. However, following her crowning, she soon encountered racially prejudiced attacks on social media. Now nearly seven years later, the challenges black titleholders face remain although Neyland is optimistic.
“It all starts with education,” says Neyland. “Providing today’s youth with an accurate telling of history will not only educate them, it will equip them with the necessary information needed to challenge inequality and take steps toward a more inclusive society. I’m so grateful for Representative Mizuno and Senator Wakai’s leadership. Together I believe we will get this done.”
Samantha Neyland won the title of Miss Hawai’i USA 2020 in November 2019 making her Hawaii’s first ever African-American Hawai’i Miss USA. She will be competing for the crown of Miss USA on November 9, 2020 in Graceland, TN. The event will be televised live on the fyi, network.