The Secret to Celebrating Juneteenth Like a (Black) Boss
It's June 19th. My employees asked me if I was giving them a PTO day off today. Here's how I replied...
As the CEO of SUPERCHARGED by Kwanza Jones and the Co-Founder and CEO of the Kwanza Jones & José E. Feliciano SUPERCHARGED Initiative, I will be working today, on Juneteenth. Simply because, I can.
Do You Even Know What Juneteenth is?
For those who don't know, on June 19, 1865, in Texas, the announcement was made that enslaved people were free. This is significant because this was almost two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared enslaved people were to be freed, was issued.
Juneteenth came to be known as a day that celebrated this emancipation.
Imagine being an enslaved person. Imagine longing for, hoping for, and risking life and limb for... freedom. Yet, even after the official presidential proclamation and executive order is made, you are still subject to bondage for more than 2.5 years.
I ask you to imagine it, but for about 250,000 people, this was their reality.
Celebrating Juneteenth: SMBs and MNCs... What Exactly Are You Celebrating?
Fast forward to today.
June 19, 2020.
For many companies, from small and medium-sized businesses to multinational corporations, Juneteenth is a new found celebration. Though I am confused about what they are celebrating. Celebrating the fact that black enslaved people were freed from involuntary servitude that they did not ask to be a participant of? Or, celebrating the fact (I hope) that they are going to make greater efforts to bridge the racial economic divide?
Many of these companies have publicly announced that they will be giving their employees today, June 19th, off. They have issued press releases, and taken to Twitter and LinkedIn, to make a public display about the importance of Juneteenth.
Some are genuine. But for some, this action was taken simply to show they are not tone-deaf to the times. For some, it is herd mentality, and solely symbolic.
Many of these companies, or company leaders, have not had open honest conversations about race, racism and how it adversely impacts opportunities given to black people and other underrepresented people of color.
They need only to look inward at their hiring practices, corporate boards and more.
June 19th: More than a Day Off
But, for those of us who have understood the historical context of the June 19, 1865 moment, and the current moment we are living in, Juneteenth is so much more than a day off.
It is far more than a day to recognize the abolishment of slavery and freedom of enslaved people in the United States.
It is far more than a day, that is like many of the other "holiday" days that people take off... (i.e. to use it as a respite from the traditional requirements of their work, job, or employment).
Are You Really Celebrating Juneteenth by Not Working? Here's Why You Should Think Differently
For me, Juneteenth matters.
And, the work that I do on Juneteenth matters.
That work includes:
Continuing discussions to enter into a multi-million dollar partnership with an African American church in order to give them an opportunity to have a financially viable and sustainable source of revenue for their church and community.
Intentionally but not exclusively, making ongoing investments in black founders, businesses and fund managers through the Kwanza Jones & José E. Feliciano SUPERCHARGED Initiative.
Choosing to be intentional and taking action to create opportunities for black and brown people and their allies through the SUPERCHARGED Boost Friend community.
That work is not just what I will be doing today, on Juneteenth. It is what we do daily. Many people benefit because of the work we do.
But, beyond that, I will be working on Juneteenth, simply because I can do just that...
And because I have the freedom to choose the work that I do.
Working While Black
I am a black woman.
An African American woman descended of enslaved people who were victimized and subject to enduring and lasting trauma.
Enslaved people who were subject to involuntary servitude.
Enslaved people who, even after being freed, continued to feel the impacts of the institution of slavery.
And so, today, the 19th of June,
I. Shall. Be. Working.
Hopes, Dreams, Means: Economic Freedom
To be able to have the opportunity...
to own property,
to own a business,
to pay employees,
to financially and otherwise invest in others,
to make an impact through the work that is done of my own free will and choosing.
Just like each of you has free will, and the ability to choose to work here at SUPERCHARGED, or elsewhere.
We all have choice. That was not a given for so many of my and others' ancestors.
Again, that is why I will be and am working on Juneteenth. (Even writing this letter to tell you what I will be doing and how it impacts you, is work.)
The Choice Is Yours: What Do You Choose?
And so, Teamily.
I invite you, my team members, those within my employ...
I invite you to choose and, most importantly, to take action to honor the memories of those people that were enslaved, and not compensated, and victimized, and brutalized repeatedly, and traumatized repeatedly.
I give you leave to do on this day what you will (i.e. you can take today off).
You shall be compensated for today, regardless of how you choose to spend your time today.
The Costs: Who Pays and Gets Paid?
But I ask this one thing... while you are doing whatever you choose to do today, take a moment to acknowledge and understand that you may take it as a "day off" but it is not free.
It has been paid for by the blood, the sweat, the tears the traumas, of people who were oppressed. People whose forced and free labor built this country and its economy and its buildings - including the White House and the Capitol.
People who were not compensated for their labor then, nor paid reparations after they were emancipated. (Although the federal government paid money to their enslavers. Have you heard of the Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862?)
Next Steps: Name Your Work
Again, know this...
I am and will be working on Juneteenth because my ancestors paid for the freedoms that I, and many others, enjoy (and at times take for granted).
And I am in a world of debt, and gratitude, to all my people and their allies, that have afforded us this freedom... because it could not have happened alone.
So, this Juneteenth, what will you do to honor the memories of those enslaved?
What work will you do because someone paid for it?
Will you educate yourself?
Will you connect with others (virtually or IRL) in celebration?
Will you advance or support a cause for equity?
Will you rest and take a moment to reflect on all that is happening and why?
Will you take time to express gratitude?
Will you understand that you, me, we and our company is the difference, as we continue to make a difference?
What will you do today?
Feel free to share what you will do today... but do not feel obligated to do so.
Bye for now,
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