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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

“There is always light, if we’re brave enough to see it.”

Wednesday, June 21st

Dear Friends:

I hope you enjoyed a safe and meaningful Juneteenth weekend! My teammates and I had the honor of joining two Juneteenth celebrations this weekend, in both Poughkeepsie and Beacon. They were both wonderful events, but I felt a special connection to the Poughkeepsie event on Saturday because it was held in part to honor the legacy of my old friend Tree Arrington, who sadly passed three years ago. He was and always will be a hero to me.

Juneteenth is an important day for all Americans because it’s a celebration of freedom, but at the same time, it’s also a sobering reminder of the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America. It commemorates the date of June 19, 1865, when Union forces reached Galveston, Texas, and declared the emancipation of slavery to the people there, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s the oldest African American holiday, although as a national holiday, it’s only a couple of years old. As President Obama once wrote, “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. Instead, it’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that … change is possible.” Indeed, Juneteenth stands as a stark reminder of racial injustice in our nation’s history, even as some local and state governments try to hide that history from younger generations.

As my historian colleagues at Marist would say, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

When I was a kid, we were taught America was one big “melting pot.” Do you remember that lesson from school? I guess it was an easy metaphor for little kids to understand, but as adults, we know the real America is so much greater and more complex than that. In a melting pot, the different ingredients all blend namelessly together, leaving only one taste, and telling only one story. (I am imagining a boring can of condensed soup, where the only way to find out the individual ingredients is to look at the fine print on the back of the can.) We know America is much more like a wonderful Louisiana crab boil or a fabulous New England boiled dinner, where you can taste all the ingredients by themselves, but somehow at the same time, they come together to create a dish that’s unique and special. They accent one another, without overpowering one another. That’s the America we love so dearly! It’s an America based on the idea that everyone has a different story. The American story is a glorious tapestry made up of countless different threads, all woven together. That’s what makes us great.

Okay, now I want to stop writing and go find a good crab boil because that last paragraph made me so hungry!

But seriously, I’ve learned so much over the past few months as I run for Dutchess County Executive. Being a candidate for office has a steep learning curve, for sure! But here’s one thing I don’t understand. I see some politicians spending a lot of money on yard signs that say “Veterans for …” or “Women for …” or “Latinos for …” followed by the name of that candidate. Don’t you hate that? As if we can’t see they are just trying to fake diversity. As if we can’t figure out they are only saying that because they actually don’t have the support of those people.

Friends, you can’t fake diversity. You either believe in it, or you don’t. I truly believe diversity always makes us stronger, so I would never have to resort to sneaky political tricks like those yard signs. I certainly won’t need a sign that blares out “Veterans for Tommy” because I’m already backed by plenty of veterans, including VoteVets which has 1.5 million members nationwide. I will never need a sign that says “Women for Tommy” because I’ve worked hard to earn the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, so people already know I am the candidate for County Executive who will always support a woman’s right to choose. And I don’t need a “Latinos for Tommy” sign because I’m endorsed by the Latino Democrats of Dutchess County, so Anibal and his crew at the LDODC know I will always have their back. I know they have mine, too. I don’t need a yard sign to trick people into thinking I’m something I’m not.

I don’t think my opponent can say the same.

When you’ve been a teacher as long as I have, you realize diversity isn’t a noun; it’s really an active verb because we have to keep working to make sure each and every voice is heard. Sadly, that simple idea – that everyone’s story is worth telling -- is constantly under attack across America, including right here at home in Dutchess County. You’ve probably heard the story of Amanda Gorman’s book of poetry being restricted in at least one Florida school district (the complaint, from one person, claims the book was written by “Oprah.”) And right here at home, just last week, an unidentified male felt the need to start pulling down the Pride signs along Main Street in Beacon. Luckily, community members confronted him and he fled the scene.

These are reminders that progress is often difficult. But Amanda Gorman’s amazing poem “The Hill We Climb” offers us the hope and encouragement we need to complete that work, when she writes, “For there is always light, if we’re brave enough to see it. If we’re brave enough to be it.” As Dutchess County Executive, I will work every day to help fulfill the promise of a world where no one is silenced, and everyone feels safe to share their own story.

Changing our world always starts at home.

If you believe in the power of diversity like I do, I hope you will consider joining our fight to share our message of hope and inclusion with everyone in Dutchess County. We need your help! Please consider a donation in any amount using the secure Act Blue link below, and also consider bringing your energy and talents to any of our Team Tommy events listed on our monthly tour calendar, which can be found on social media.

A blessed Juneteenth to all! Thank you for listening. See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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