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How Juneteenth became a corporate movement

June 16, 2020, 11:00 PM UTC

Hi, everyone. This is Aric Jenkins, staff writer at Fortune. As Ellen mentioned in the June 5 edition of the newsletter, I’m joining the raceAhead team as a partner and collaborator. That mostly means I’ll be in the background as Ellen’s editor and curator, because Ellen’s writing is terrific and essential and I don’t want to get in her way even though she swears she doesn’t see it that way. 

Sometimes, like today, I will jump in, because Ellen is not just tolerant of the idea of me writing; she’s actively encouraging me to do it. I’m grateful for her support and honored to have a voice here. I’m really looking forward to engaging with the raceAhead community. Feel free to write to me at and follow me on Twitter.


With that introduction out of the way, let me get into this week’s subject at hand: Juneteenth. The annual holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States has long been a regional observance, particularly among Black Americans in Texas, where the celebration first originated. Many people in the U.S. were unaware of its existence, or what exactly Juneteenth celebrated, judging from Google Trends search data and the amount of explainers published over the past week.

Yet this morning, my colleagues and I found out that this year’s Juneteenth, which falls this Friday, will be a paid day off “to underscore the importance of making progress in correcting a history of injustice,” per our CEO Alan Murray. Fortune’s recognition of Juneteenth puts us alongside media peers BuzzFeed, Vox, The Atlantic, and the New York Times. Beyond our industry: Twitter, Square, Nike, Postmates, the National Football League, TikTok, Target, Adobe, Glossier, Lyft, Mastercard, Spotify, Quicken Loans, JCPenney, and many more.

Altogether, around 200 companies so far have pledged to make this June 19th a paid holiday, said Miles Dotson, co-founder of the Bay Area-based, majority-Black collective HellaCreative. The group can lay claim as the catalyst to this national movement, having created the HellaJuneteenth website to inform and advocate for an official national holiday to “reclaim our time” from the legacy of slavery in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Hearing the news of Floyd’s death was grim, infuriating. “Day by day we were thinking of what to do,” Dotson told me. “We had our weekly Zoom happy hour and thought about what’s coming up. Juneteenth’s coming up. Can we do something around it? It’s not a national holiday, let’s see what we can do.”

Dotson and his peers set up a website with a clean template and powerful black and white imagery. It launched the first week of June before “spreading like wildfire” over the weekend. That included Slack. Internal messaging boards. Direct messages. Social media. By Tuesday, June 9, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that Juneteeth would become a permanent annual holiday for the companies. Said Dotson: “A member of our community is a legacy Square employee and said, ‘Hey, this is amazing, can you be one of the first companies to sign our commitment?’ And then from [Dorsey’s] posting, it really took off.”

The number and range of large corporations committing to Juneteenth as a paid holiday is impressive and encouraging. I asked Channing Godfrey Peoples, director of the upcoming film Miss Juneteenth and a native of Fort Worth, Texas—where Juneteenth has been celebrated for generations—what she thought about it. “The legacy of slavery is woven into the fabric of our country’s history and how ALL Americans navigate our present,” she wrote in an email. “I think a day of observance of this history and future we want to create is appropriate.”

She added: “It would be disappointing to me if this was just a one year acknowledgement.” 

Make note of the companies that are doing this as a one-time show of solidarity because of the pressures of the current unrest. They will likely be vague in their Juneteenth announcements and describe the holiday as occurring “this year.” These companies still deserve credit for giving employees a day off following a difficult and exhausting few weeks for Black Americans, but this is an important distinction—particularly if we want to see Juneteenth become a national holiday. Having that happen is about so much more than having a day off to barbecue (in post-pandemic times).

“If you look in the continuum of American history, we might have Black History Month but the embellishment is about individualism—we don’t have a holiday to signify the transition from one identity that America had to another,” Dotson told me. “I don’t think we fully emancipated Black Americans. 1865 was the launchpad to the next period, and that should be acknowledged and celebrated widely by all those that benefit from that clarity.”

Well said. And with that said, I hope those of you who have this Friday off are able to enjoy a safe and socially distant Juneteenth with family and friends. Here’s to hoping that next year we can gather in larger numbers, and that companies still give us the time and space to do so.

Aric Jenkins

On point

A much-needed victory for LGBTQ workers The Supreme Court affirmed yesterday that long-held civil rights legislation does, in fact, protect gay and transgender workers from discrimination. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” said Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing or the majority. Until the decision, it was still legal in more than half of the states to fire people for being gay, bisexual, or transgender; the decision sent ripples of joy through LGBTQ advocates and allies. Click through for more on the 6-to-3 ruling.
New York Times

This is what working while Black is like in 2020 All the praise to Fortune newsletters editor Karen Yuan, and an all-star-team including Rachel Schallom, John Buysse, Andrew Nusca, Josue Evilla and Peter Herbert for bringing this important project to life and to your attention. Now for the difficult news: If you want to understand what life is like for Black employees in a variety of industries, prepare for a master class in microaggressions, frustration, and dreams deferred and despaired. “For many years, I've worked in corporate America. As I slowly moved up the corporate ladder, I began to notice there were fewer black employees until I was the only one,” shared Bryan, 51, who lives in a diverse and talent-rich city. “Eventually, I myself resigned because I learned I was being paid less than half of what my white colleagues earned. When I confronted HR and my manager about it, they blatantly lied to me.” We’re still collecting stories; please read and share widely.

Understanding the ‘Third Reconstruction’ movement This is the moment we’re in, explained Pastor Eddie Anderson, who has been gathering with other faith and community leaders in South L.A. to talk through the aftermath of days of protests and call for reform. The discussion on tactics seems split across generational lines; elders historically want a “seat at the table,” while younger activists now want a new world. “People are telling you what they want. They want to defund police. They want to prosecute killer cops,” said Anderson. “This is a Third Reconstruction moment… “So let’s lean into the moment and not be so stuck to tradition that we stagnate the movement.”
Los Angeles Times

If it seems police reforms are happening quickly, they aren’t Activists have been fighting to defund the police for a long time. Now, in Los Angeles, their budget proposals are being heard. In Minneapolis, new details are emerging on their plan to disband/reform their police. One idea appears to be using predictive analytics to help identify problematic policing patterns. And finally, the NYPD plans to shut down its plainclothes policing unit, an aggressive anti-crime unit that had been responsible for a number of police shootings. The officers will be reassigned. “Make no mistake, this is a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city,” Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Monday. 

Are you ready to change the advertising industry? Ad/creative exec Bennett D. Bennett, along with colleague Nathan Young, started a necessary movement with their Call for Change open letter, asking Black professionals in advertising to ask agency leadership to take direct action to address systemic racism in the industry. Their demands are a blueprint for any institution looking for change, by the way. The splash has been big enough that Bennett, along with Nate Nichols,  Leslie Collin and others are now hosting the Allyship and Action Summit, to delve more deeply into how the advertising industry can reckon with its past and embrace anti-racist reforms. It’s June 18, follow #allyshipandaction for more.
Call for Change

On background

Whiteness is not our savior Put your out-of-office notifications on, pour yourself a cuppa something good, and savor this take from Taylor Harris, a slow-moving exploration of roots, faith, family, and racism. It is, she declares upfront, her testimony, which starts with the occasional white face in her home church as a child, where the Jesus on the altar didn’t bleed, but “wore a cloak, a triumphant robe that offered shelter within its folds.” In her future husband’s home church where Holy Spirit felled members of the all-Black congregation on the regular, whiteness was a faraway existence. Now, raising three Black children on the brink of adolescence, discussions of whiteness are searing and close. “Mommy, why are some white people bad?” her three-year-old asks. “Did she get alive?” her eight-year-old asks of Breonna Taylor. “I don’t know if he was asking if the pain struck her awake before she died,” says Harris, “or if she became alive again when she saw Jesus in the air.”

Ijeoma Oluo talks about race in tech Oluo is the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, an essential tome when it was published in early 2018; now perched at the top of the New York Times paperback nonfiction best sellers list, in the midst of this long, national reckoning on racism. This piece from Techcrunch’s ethicist-in-residence Daniel Epstein, was based on a series of conversations that occurred before George Floyd’s death. But their themes are even more resonant now. Epstein is an interesting guy (he works as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT) so he began their conversation by positing that that technology has become a form of secular religion. “One thing tech fundamentally has in common with many religions, at least in America is that it is a white man’s version of Utopia,” Oluo responded. “And tech especially has this cult-like adherence to a white man’s vision of a Utopia that fundamentally disempowers and endangers women and people of color.”

The Black wealth gap starts at home. A three-year, undercover investigation reveals shocking racial disparities in real estate sales on Long Island, and the findings are not subtle. Over a period of three years, Newsday trained 25 undercover house hunters and gave them identical credentials, analyzed nearly 6,000 real estate listings, and secretly recorded 240 hours of meetings taken with 93 Long Island-based real estate agents. The findings showed a widespread pattern of discrimination: Black house-hunters experienced “disparate treatment” 49% of the time – compared with 39%for Hispanic and 19% for Asian buyers. In some cases, real estate agents accommodated white buyers while refusing to show homes to people of color unless they provided additional financial assets. “This is something that didn’t happen in the deep South,” said Greg Squires, professor of public policy at George Washington University, and an advisor to the program. “It happened in one of the most educated, most liberal regions of the country. These are significant numbers.”

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