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Corporate DEI will be in the spotlight at this weekend’s Juneteenth Freedom Festival

June 18, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

President Joe Biden signed legislation on Thursday to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday, after it was passed by Congress this week. Juneteenth takes place annually on June 19 commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. It has been celebrated by African American communities around the country for years, despite lack of federal recognition.

“What Juneteenth represents is freedom,” said Laquan Austion, CEO and founder of The Juneteenth Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. “Black folks in this country still weren’t entirely free [until] two years later after the Emancipation Proclamation; that fight for vigilance must still continue.”

The foundation was created just under a year ago, said Austion, vice president of public affairs at The Clyde Group, a boutique PR agency in Washington, D.C. He has also served as campaign manager and general consultant for political campaigns. For the past eight months, Austion, along with his wife, Alicia Austion, executive director at the foundation, team members, and friends have worked toward launching The Freedom Festival, taking place on Friday and Saturday. 

Several corporate partners for the foundation’s inaugural event include Ashley Stewart, a national women’s clothing company, DoorDash, General Motors, Forbes, Lyft, and Live Nation Entertainment.

Ashley Stewart said on its LinkedIn page that 100% of proceeds from every Juneteenth t-shirt it sells will go to support the foundation.

“In recognition of Juneteenth, Ashley Stewart will close all stores for the second year in a row, providing paid time off to encourage reflection, education and advocacy,” the company’s CEO Gary Sheinbaum said in a statement. Ashley Stewart is “grateful to take one more actionable step towards racial justice and equity through our partnership with The Juneteenth Foundation,” Sheinbaum said.

“We didn’t want partners that are just going to write a check and walk away,” Austion said. “We wanted corporations who truly reflected this meaningful change, internally, as a corporation, as a brand.”

The Freedom Festival’s lineup includes a virtual panel discussion on Friday, where partnering companies will discuss DEI efforts, he said. “Many companies said these remarkable things around DEI last year, and the need to support Juneteenth, and celebrate people of color,” Austion said. “So, let’s do a status report.”

There will be an in-person evening reception at in Washington, D.C., with government leaders including members of the Congressional Black Caucus in attendance, he said. “We’re also giving away $50,000 in scholarships to students going to historically Black colleges and universities,” Austion said.

The Freedom Festival will host a virtual career fair on Saturday. “But before we start the actual career fair itself, in a panel discussion, we’ll talk about how you maintain your culture in the corporate workspace,” Austion said. Brandi Nicole Johnson, head of learning development at DoorDash will be among the panelists. The festival will end with a virtual concert Saturday night. 

The foundation’s festival isn’t just a one time thing, Austion said. “I want to make sure that Juneteenth is continually recognized and continuously celebrated,” he said.

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