by Joey Phoenix
Images by Creative Collective
Nicole McClain (she/her/hers), the President and founder of the North Shore Juneteenth Association, has had no shortage of things to do in the last year. While most of the world was grappling with the devastating effects of global pandemic, Black and Brown people in the United States were also fighting for their lives in a different way – and the North Shore Juneteenth Association was among the first to lead the charge locally.
McClain, along with Adriana Paz (she/her/hers), is also part of Prevent the Cycle: an organization founded in 2020 committed to racial equity and systemic change through community engagement, education and policy reform.
“Being a Black woman, I’ve always known that there’s racial tension and all these underlying microaggressions in society as a whole, not just in our cities or on the North Shore of Massachusetts, but everywhere,” said McClain (she/her/hers). “But I’ve recently realized that many people don’t realize their biases. They not only don’t see how their actions affect and harm others, but they also don’t see how their harmful behaviors are a result of the bias that they have never acknowledged in themselves.”
While fighting against systemic racism and for racial equity is nothing new – the wildfire spread of the video of the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 shook the world in an unprecendented way. The event sparked a social movement which society as a whole could no longer ignore, because although the fight for equal rights for Black and Brown communities was a continuation and not a new beginning, everyone was finally paying attention.
“[This year] has really shown me that people had just been living their lives so completely unaware of what we as Black people have been so obviously dealing with for our entire lives.”
Related Reading: “Celebrating Juneteenth 2020 – A Time for Joy, a Time for Change”
Founding the North Shore Juneteenth Association
McClain founded the North Shore Juneteenth Association in 2017 as a direct response to the violent treatment of her son at the hands of the Lynn Police Department.
In late 2016, a Lynn police officer tackled her 16 year old son and put an elbow against his neck. He had just been walking with friends, which for a young black man in America is enough to be brutalized by the police. While he was able to get out of the situation mostly unharmed, he came home scared and afraid.
“There was no reason for it – it was just police officers being bullies rather than protecting and serving the community,” McClain said. “It really just upset me to the point where I needed to do something to change how [Black people] are being treated.”
For McClain, the problem is so pervasive because of the lack of healthy representation of Black people in the media and in communities. Black and Brown people have historically been depicted negatively in the news and pop culture– usually in discussions around gun violence, incarceration, and slavery – which has had a major effect on public perception.
“I’ve decided to share positive images of Black American culture on the North Shore of Massachusetts to show that we’re not just what people see in the media, but scientists, doctors, artists, and so much more” McClain said, acknowledging that doing so hasn’t been easy. “There are a lot of closed minded individuals who are unwilling to see the numerous contributions of Black Americans to this country or the freedoms we have fought to help everyone else enjoy. So I’m trying to show them.”
The Work Continues
In 2021 the work that North Shore Juneteenth has been doing for years is finally starting to make progress towards its goals. This is largely due to the effect the events of last year have had on the public conscience, and how it forced the world to start paying attention to things that have always affected Black lives in this country.
“This year has made me realize that the work that I do is even more important than ever because it helps to open people’s eyes to what’s actually happening in the world. While it’s true that not everybody has an easy life, Black and Brown people have the added difficulty of being discounted because of the color of our skin,” she said.
She also explained that being a Black person in this country meant that they regularly have to deal with people “looking at you sideways, like you don’t belong there.”
One of the things she’s most hopeful about now that people are paying attention is that her organization and many others like hers no longer have to go it alone. Many local organizations, regardless of whether they are Black-led or not, have started collectively carrying the banner of working towards racial justice and police reform.
“Because of these collaborations in 2020, we were able to influence our local government to implement the use of body cameras for the police department,” McClain said. “We’ve also been able to influence our local government to implement a diversity, equity and inclusion position and revitalized the Human Rights Commission in our city.
In light of March being Women’s history month, McClain also believes that fighting for equality for all Black and Brown people is the first step towards the equitable treatment and respect of Black and Brown women as well, a group of people who have been historically underrepresented.
“The questions I want people to be asking are: ‘How can we make sure that everybody is bringing these stories to the forefront,’ and ‘How can we make sure that Asian American women, Black American women, Hispanic American, transgender individuals – anybody who is a woman – has a seat at the table?’ Because It’s not women’s history month if there are women who are excluded,” she said.
You can learn more about (and support!) McClain’s work by checking out the North Shore Juneteenth Association’s website, following them on Facebook and Instagram, or picking up tickets to their upcoming virtual fundraising event Hats and Heels High Tea.
Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, Creative Collective is celebrating Women’s History Month! Follow along as we tell the stories of women small business owners and woman-led organizations.
And make sure to use the hashtags #shareHERstory, #shareTHEIRstory*, or #shareyourstory to highlight the women, the femmes/fems, and the non-binary/genderqueer individuals in your community who have and are continuing to inspire you.