Rep. Val Demings and her family are featured in a new video by her Senate campaign that expounds on the importance of Juneteenth as a celebration of freedom and history.
Demings, the Winter Park Congresswoman seeking to challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022, uses the video, where she is joined by family to commemorate the new national holiday approved by Congress Wednesday and signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Also, Rubio released a video statement Friday commemorating Juneteenth, which marks June 19, 1865, as the day the last slaves in Texas were told they were emancipated. Rubio calls Juneteenth “a celebration of one of the most important moments in the history of the greatest nation on earth.”
In addition, Allen Ellison, a Democratic primary opponent of Demings, released a written statement Friday in which he applauded the overwhelmingly bipartisan congressional approval but said much is left to be done.
Demings also uses her three-minute video to introduce her family to the electorate. The scene is of a family gathering where she is joined by her husband, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, their children and families.
“Family is really the foundation on which our hopes and dreams are built,” Val Demings begins.
She uses the moment to reintroduce her own past to voters, as she displays a photograph of the house she grew up in, with her own parents and sisters and others, as her husband and their children and grandchildren gather around to see and listen.
“It’s important that we know our history so that we can learn from our history,” she says. “When we talk about Juneteenth, we are talking about America’s history because this nation was built by the blood, sweat, and tears of every race who has been blessed and privileged to help build this great nation.
“When I think of my own life and having the opportunity, the daughter of a maid and a janitor, to become the police chief, be a member of Congress, and now running for the U.S. Senate, only in America is that story possible,” she says.
It is left to Jerry Demings to reach back to the clear meaning of Juneteenth.
“Val and I are descendants, obviously, of slaves. And it’s not so far in our history. For her to now rise to this level in our country, it really embodies the American dream,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
“Let’s move forward and become the America we were created to be,” Val Demings says. “The kind of America that regardless of who you are, how much money you have in the bank, where you live, the color of your skin, your gender, that you have the opportunity to live up to your full potential.
“The kind of America that others around the world see as a beacon of hope. So part of the important work that we do as we celebrate Juneteenth is to make sure that freedom is in front of us, and not just a day behind us,” she adds.
The video is labeled a Juneteenth Celebration, showing Val and Jerry Demings’ children and grandchildren coming over for a family gathering and dinner. But it appears to have been filmed at a birthday celebration for Jerry Demings, as he is presented with a birthday cake. His birthday was June 12.
Rubio’s video, “Forever Juneteenth Free,” features part of a speech he gave on the Senate floor in which he decried the country’s early history of slavery and inequality as “a shameful truth, an undeniable part of our history, a stain on our legacy as a nation.”
“But it is not the whole story,” Rubio continues. “Ours is not simply the story of a people who for 189 years failed to live up to the promise of America. Ours is ultimately the story of the Americans who ultimately succeeded in making us a nation of a nation that was closer to who we were supposed to be, a nation where all people are viewed as equal under the law, whose rights come from their creator.”
Ellison’s statement read, “I applaud the overwhelmingly bipartisan action to recognize June 19 as a momentous day for progress and change. But the commemoration itself is still a small step in our continuing fight for equality, justice and fairness for all Americans. Black communities are plagued by police abuse and misconduct as the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has shown. We must still fight for our right to participate in democratic elections as numerous Republican-led states — including Florida — create hurdles for millions of us to register and vote.
“Together, we must work hard to continue the fight that never ended with the end of slavery. We need to support legislation such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act, measures still awaiting passage in Congress, that will ensure our rights as Americans,” Ellison continued. “We must fight for critical race theory to be taught in schools, which challenges leaders, scholars, teachers and students to look critically at our history with a more comprehensive perspective from those who have long been silenced or sidelined.”