S 5 E3

June 29th, 2021

EPISODE 3: Juneteenth: Towards a New Perspective

The United States Congress has passed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday. The bill’s passage marks the first time a new federal holiday has been established since Congress approved Martin Luther King Jr. day in 1983. More importantly, Juneteenth marks and commemorates emancipation of Black Americans. Now, organizations across the country are asking what they can and should do to mark the occasion. In this episode, an esteemed panel discusses Juneteenth from a historical perspective, how it resonates and moves communities today, and where the conversation is going in the future. They explore what meaningful ways can companies, leaders, and society-at-large deploy efforts and resources to create a more just, diverse, and equitable future.

Episode Transcript

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:05] SO: When was the first time you heard about Juneteenth? Did your elementary school teacher mention it in passing? Or maybe you stumbled across it in a textbook in high school? Maybe you’ve been celebrating it your whole life. Or quite possibly, you’re hearing about it for the first time right now. No matter where you first learned, there’s no doubt that you’ve been hearing about it a lot more recently. The United States Congress has just declared Juneteenth a federal holiday. It’s the first new federal holiday since Congress approved a bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. But more important than the passage of the bill is the event that Juneteenth commemorates, the emancipation of black Americans. So now, organizations and people across the country are asking what they can and should do to mark the occasion.

In this episode, we’ve invited an esteemed panel to discuss Juneteenth from a historical perspective, how it resonates and moves communities today, and where the conversation is going in the future. Together, they explore what meaningful ways that companies, leaders, and society at large can do to deploy efforts and resources to create a more just, diverse, and equitable future.

Hi, I’m Shadé Olasimbo, a Senior Producer at the NeuroLeadership Institute, and I’ll be your host for this special Juneteenth episode of Your Brain At Work. This week, our guests include an esteemed professor of African American Studies at Howard University, Dr. Laila Ammons; an award winning speaker and author, Senior Client Strategist at the NeuroLeadership Institute, John Edwards; the former Vice President of Research, Practices, and Consulting at an NLI and current Vice President of Inclusion, Diversity, and Engagement at Akamai, Khalil Smith; and a wildly recognized and respected speaker, speech writer, and thought leader, Senior Client Strategist at the NeuroLeadership Institute, Janet Stovall. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. Thanks for joining us and enjoy.

[EPISODE]

[00:02:31] SO: You know why we’re here today, for a special episode of Your Brain At Work to talk about Juneteenth, the newly passed federal holiday in Congress as of yesterday. But the question is why? Well, in 2020, NLI and many other organizations in the country officially recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday, which is why for some of our regulars, you’ll notice that we moved today’s session to a Thursday because the NeuroLeadership Institute employees are off tomorrow in observance of the holiday.

I’m also very curious to hear about some of your companies. So if you offer Juneteenth or if there’s any program around the holidays, please let us know in the chat because we would love to talk about that a little bit later in the session. But we’re here today because it’s an important time to recognize this holiday, one that you may have heard about in passing, you were lucky to learn about in school, or you may not have been exposed to until your adult life, most likely in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. No matter where you learn this knowledge, we’re happy to have you here for this discussion. But I want to, as we anchor on science, dive into the session and bring you back to that seeds model.

One of the things that we like to say at NLI is if you have a brain, you have bias. So with that model, we narrowed down some of the types of bias and the five main categories; similarity, experience, distance, and safety. Because when we identify the types of biases we have, we can help to mitigate those. But I want to hone in specifically on experienced bias. We can go our whole lives without knowing about something so substantial and in the context specifically around Juneteenth, something that has meaning and importance to a large group of people. Because we have such varying knowledge or experience with that history, the dark history of the United States, we need to create more intentional platforms for shared knowledge and opportunities to deepen our understanding of one another. So that is what today is about, examining Juneteenth as our collective history. So now, I am going to turn the reins over to Dr. Ammons.

[00:04:26] LA: Thank you so much. Today, I want to talk about the evolution of Juneteenth as a holiday. It is a holiday that’s been celebrated for over 155 years, and it’s not well-known. Two, I want to talk about the tradition of African Americans, tradition of Juneteenth as a holiday. I also want to talk about Juneteenth as a day of resilience, as well as it is [inaudible 00:04:54] of persistence and never giving up. Lastly, I want to talk about why Juneteenth is relevant in 2021.

The story of African Americans start with the 20 Africans that arrived in Virginia in 1619. They were bought or sold into servitude. By 1705, the Virginia Assembly had declared all Negroes, mulattoes, and Native Americans as property. By 1750, slavery was legalized in all of the 13 colonies, not only Virginia. The Civil War started in 1861 when a military group of 13 states to call themselves the Confederacy attacked a federal garrison at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. That during this war, over 185,000 African American soldiers joining Union troops, and about 3,000 lost their lives. Shortly, two years after the Civil War started Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it did not free all slaves. It only freed slaves in the rebel states and not the law states.

Now, some of the slave owners of Confederate States did not think that they had to abide by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Indeed, the word got out that the Union troop’s soldiers were in Mississippi and Louisiana. As soon as that word, they began to hear it, then slavers fled with their slaves to the southwest to an area where Union troops were not present and where they had heard that Texas was slave haven. But to see that in 1861, African Americans got the word in South Carolina, so they were celebrating, and we see a picture of that.

Also important to note that the Union troops, colored troops, also were very instrumental in helping to spread the word to African Americans that they were free. On this day, June 19th, 1865, the day that enslaved African Americans in Texas, formally was informed and told that they were free by General Granger. But freedom did not mean or equate to social and political economic freedom. The executive order, and here is the text of that executive order. I’m not going to read this executive order, but I do want to draw your attention to the last paragraph, and I will read this comment. The freedmen are advised “to remain quietly in their present homes and work for wages.” They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and they will not be supported [inaudible 00:08:02] either there or elsewhere.

To get the full intent of this, you see that African Americans were pretty much left on their own. They were going to have to make a way for themselves. To recognize this day as a day of liberation, African Americans celebrated Juneteenth for organizing such festivities as parades, barbecues, dances, games, prayers, stores, and they pay tribute to honor the color troops that were instrumental also in helping to spread the word. Food became a central feature of the Juneteenth holiday, and participants would bring their favorite dish, which often included items not eaten on a daily basis such as lamb and pork and desserts. Now, red foods such as watermelon, strawberry, soda pop, and red velvet cake were feature items to symbolize the blood their ancestors spilled to freedom. The teacakes were some of the desserts used by enslaved person as a special treat, and this is according to the director of the Juneteenth Commission. When I was a little girl, my mother used to make them for me.

It’s important to note that there are laws that African America were not to dress up. At these celebrations, African American normally wore their finest clothes. We also see that in Washington DC. In 1866, they also had gotten the word and they were celebrating Juneteenth. It’s important to note that the period following the Civil War was called reconstruction. It’s clear that African Americans had made modest gains, political gains. Some were elected to Congress and some to the House of Representatives, and African men had the right to vote. That is some progress has been made. No African American making progress but everyone was making progress.

Now, out of the fear that blacks would take their jobs, [inaudible 00:09:59] again to rewrite the history of the Civil War, and white supremacy triumphed. They produced false narratives, fake news to suggest that African Americans were unable to govern and that reconstruction had been a failure. The Daughters of the American Revolutionary War sought to make sure that their children learned their version of history. They helped to sponsor monuments to celebrate confederate leaders and promote them as the real hero of American history.

All of this led to Jim Crowism, segregation, anti-black violence, and a written history of the Civil War. African Americans found themselves completely without any political rights by the 1900s. So there were ebbs and flows in the celebration. By the 1900s, Juneteenth participation began to decline due to the Great Depression, and many African Americans went to urban areas in search of job opportunities. Employers were not very sympathetic to recently arrived immigrants and did not give time off for this celebration. If the holiday did not fall on the weekends, few participated. Classrooms and textbooks do emphasize expensive African Americans as an enslaved person and emphasize the Emancipation Proclamation’s date, January 1st, 1863, as the date of freedom, and did not mention Juneteenth.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, it was a rekindling of interest due to the civil rights movement when students that were protesters and demonstrators began to wear buttons to show that they link their struggle for racial equality and voting rights to that of their ancestor who has struggled for freedom, another incident with the Poor People Campaign in Washington, DC. But that March in 1968, the participants in that march, they returned home and began to organize Juneteenth, and this helped to re-popularize, and it began to spread into areas that had not been before. In 1980, with the help of Al Edwards, Texas had become the first state to honor Juneteenth. This young man here provides us with one of the reasons why folks fought so hard, so very hard, to make this day a holiday, so youth to learn that history. Philadelphia is a very important place because it is this place where the first constitution of this country was written.

Now, Juneteenth is about persistence and being successful against the odds. Juneteenth serves as a reminder of America pass and serve as an inspiration for all Americans to see what’s possible with resilience and hope for a brighter future. Juneteenth is an opportunity for everybody to do the right thing. We all have seen evidence of people trying to rewrite history. It’s time for us to educate ourselves. You should educate yourself, learn about the different cultures, that African Americans did not wait for somebody to help us. We provide an opportunity for ourselves by using activism and protest in order to take control of our narrative, to make America stay truth and to press it to keep the promise of equality. Juneteenth, I’m so happy that the Congress has decided to make it. Hopefully, President Biden will assign it, as Shadé mentioned in the very beginning, to make it a national holiday.

[00:13:55] SO: Thank you for that, Dr. Ammons. As we transition to the next portion is for many people, Juneteenth became a recognized holiday after the murder of George Floyd. I kind of want to ask our panel how you feel about how companies navigate the holiday today. I know I want to toss this to you specifically first, John, because I know you have a lot of experience, specifically with clients and working with them, not only in your career but at NLI. I want to kind of touch on your opinions on this first about how you feel about how companies have navigated the holiday even before, again, this national recognition as of this year.

[00:14:31] JE: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. It’s no great surprise to anyone that there has just been a flurry of inquiries from organizations wanting to figure out how do we have the right conversations in our work environment as a result of the social unrest and the horrors that we were witnessing in the last 18 months, much less now bringing in the conversation really around the history of what’s been going on across the United States and, in my case, the Caribbean since that’s where I’m originally from. So organizations are really diving in. Let’s just say it’s a sensitive conversation to have.

For many folks, the recent experiences are really creating an awareness in them and a drive to want to have the right kinds of conversation, and so a number of questions have emerged in businesses and corporations across the country. Number one is what’s the problem we need to solve for, how do we help our employees, and what’s the role that a leader or an executive has in nurturing and helping and creating an environment where the right thing is being done and people are being treated in the right way. That’s one of the things that’s so exciting for me about NLI and why I was so thrilled to become part of this team.

NLI takes a scientific perspective on it, and what we’ve discovered is you introduced the seeds model before, and we have a few other models as well. By taking a scientific perspective, we’ve been able to give organizations a language that they can use to have that conversation and to start that particular process. We’re finding remarkably effective numbers. We’re talking about numbers in the 70 percentile and 80 percentile of leaders are coming back and saying, “I am now mitigating bias on a regular reoccurring basis.” So really remarkable results that have been seen from the terrific work that’s been done. That’s a really step one that I see organizations are taking, and I sort of put it into this model, right? It’s a recognition, education, understanding model.

So when we think about Juneteenth, the first thing is what are we going to do to recognize it? A lot of organizations, now that this is the federal holiday, are saying, “Hey, I’ve got tomorrow off.” There are other companies that are saying, “I want to give you flex holidays, and you choose which ones you want to take off.” I think the bottom line is organizations are going to have to take a look at how they want to deal with this particular day and recognize the growing importance that it has. Part of that recognition is that, you know what, this is not just about black American history. This is about American history and the influence that the history of black Americans have had and the full integration of American history. So really recognizing the significance of that commonality there I think is important for organizations.

Then you get to the education piece, and that is where we start talking about things like our ally program, one of our new programs we’ve just rolled out around how you can become a better ally, not only in the workplace but in social environments as well, and our flex program, which is how do you return to a hybrid work environment. The reason that’s important here is because we’re seeing a lot of data about how African Americans feel a deeper sense of belonging in a hybrid environment than they’ve ever felt in the regular work environment. So how do companies make that transition to a hybrid work environment without hurting that sense of belonging that underrepresented groups are having.

Then we get to the understanding part of my formula, which is really around recognizing the intersectionality between black American history and other represented groups in the organization as well and just recognizing how important that is to see how that all comes together as one versus a conversation that just keeps everything really segregated. Because if we do that, we’re just talking about black American history, where we’re alienating other individuals in the workforce, our Asian American friends, etc., underrepresented groups. When you really study as this terrific overview is given us, when you really study black American history, you see a lot of intersectionality in how we’ve all influenced each other.

[00:18:18] SO: Thank you for that, John. I love the way specifically you’re talking about how it’s important to communicate and like make sure we have these avenues for opening up that we’re not excluding, right? One of the things that NLI says, “If you’re not actively including, you’re excluding.” So that’s really important. Then, Janet, I kind of want to toss it to you because I know specifically your background in communication. I want to stress your background in communications and how companies specifically can navigate. How do you talk about this, right? How do you address this and do it right? How do you – I know that you have some thoughts specifically on this. There’s a post you put out today that I would love to have you kind of address as well.

[00:18:57] JS: Sure. That’s right. My background is communications, and it’s in marketing a lot. So when you think about how companies deal with this, they generally do it on two fronts. They’re talking internally to their employees and they’re talking externally to the outside world. Most companies come to Juneteenth with the best of intentions. Of course, they do. But good intentions without good insight can create some really negative implications, and insight starts with education, as [inaudible 00:19:25] said.

By the same token, to paraphrase E. Franklin Frazier, who was the first black sociologist, first black president of the American Sociological society, said, “Education can be too much inspiration and too little information.” If companies are going to step into this space, they should step into it with the same intention and insight that they would any other marketing or executive or employee communications type of work.

For example, if you think you’re going to create a graphic out there in the world that says, “Celebrate Juneteenth,” but you’re not giving employees a day off, how is that the best way to celebrate it? Or if you write a sentence that says, “July 19th, 1865 was when slavery ended.” The truth is it didn’t. It didn’t until December with the passing of the 13th Amendment. Best ones I’ve seen lately. Like Dr. Ammon said, one of the traditions of Juneteenth is to have red food. I know personally, as somebody who works for a company that put together these wonderful gift boxes, and in it there was popcorn, watermelon-flavored popcorn. Now, I don’t need to say why that was probably a bad idea. I will ask the question, who did they ask about that?

So I think you have to – When you plan these things as a company, you need to find the people who are affected and ask some questions. Go ask some black people. In this company’s defense, they chose a supplier that was a black-owned company. But I will say once again, maybe they should have thought that through a little bit. So little education, you got to understand what it is you’re trying to do. If you’re going to commemorate it, you need to understand it. The bottom line is Juneteenth can be an amazing thing for amplifying black American voices, as John said, for putting black history in the context of American history. It can do all those things. The trick is to be transformative not to be performative. That’s going to require paying attention to what you’re doing, doing with intention, and knowing exactly what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with celebrating this holiday.

[00:21:27] LA: I just want to add that that you’re absolutely right. I think you have to understand the intent of the holiday. One of the things that I did not mention is that this holiday, my people thought that everybody were just basically just having a party and having a good time. But a little known secret is that it was an opportunity for the black elected officials to come and recruit to get people to support them and to talk about how they could indeed gain political power. So as corporations attempt to take advantage this Juneteenth holiday, I think it’s very important, as Janet has indicated, that they are fully aware of what the real intent that people had and take the opportunity to try to come up with ways to bring us together, as opposed for us to be separate.

Indeed, this is an opportunity, as I’ve already mentioned, for us to actually educate ourselves, learn other people culture because that’s what history is all about. History is about having us to learn what our ancestors had done and how they interact with other folks so that we can indeed create a better future. So I just say to companies to take this opportunity to learn about others that we’re all humans and to try and do to make the pie larger, as opposed to smaller.

[BREAK]

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[INTERVIEW RESUMED]

[00:23:17] KS: I think the essence of a lot of what we’re describing is don’t make this just a day and do your homework leading up to it. If we marry those two ideas, it is constantly continue to educate yourself and to understand. John, to your point around like how does that become just an organizational muscle because so many folks have had their moment in the spotlight that we don’t want, right? We don’t want to kind of have to be on the front page of the newspaper before something comes up or a moment in time or a moment on the calendar before we start to pay attention. What we’re asking for is actually educate yourself the entire year, right? Ask these questions. Get prepared for Juneteenth in January, not at the beginning of June, right?

Janet, to your point, it’s when you’re scrambling to make those things happen that you find, well, we don’t have time to check in with our African American ERG or we don’t have time to kind of do our due diligence, and so let’s just throw something together and get it out there. I think that rushed to react, as opposed to truly making it an institutional muscle, is why we do the wrong thing sometimes. So if we can just kind of – For everybody, listen in to the thing that these experts have said around don’t make it a moment in time, do your due diligence, understand. There’s lots of information and education out there, and we just need to be willing and open to it.

[00:24:38] SO: What are you seeing now specifically in the country and in the world that makes Juneteenth especially relevant today? Again, yes, Congress just passed the bill. We’re waiting for it to get signed on, if it’s officially been on. I got a Google in the background. On the other hand, we’re also still fighting state legislators that are arguing whether or not to teach race and, frankly, American history in schools. So I really kind of want to get your thoughts on this. I’m going to go to Janet first. Specifically, I want to know your thoughts on where this is.

[00:25:07] JS: Well, I mean, the truth of the matter is pretty much all of us are thrilled that Juneteenth is going to be made a holiday. For me, personally, part of what makes it so wonderful is that it can actually be taught, that people can know about it. I believe if you start teaching one part of history, like John was saying, it puts it in context of American history. But history is a series of breadcrumbs and connections. So if you can teach this part of history, it then teaches another part. Eventually, you may be sitting in classes, and we may hear about things. We open the door to teach things like the burning of black Tulsa. We may talk about the Wilmington Race Riots, how that was the first political insurrection. We can talk about the fact that there’s a black city, Oscarville, buried under Lake Lanier, here in Georgia, where I am. We can find out about these things. That should be what happens, right?

But to your point, it’s ironic. Or someone more cynical might say intentional, depending how you look at it, that here we are celebrating a holiday, making a national holiday, at the same time that we have six states in the process of trying to stop the teaching of systemic racism in the schools or in black history or any kind of history that would have these kinds of things in it. You got 14 states that are enacting, restricting voting access. You’ve got police brutality still there. I mean, and whether it’s fair or not that Juneteenth as a holiday became a holiday after the death of George Floyd. It is linked to that, and that’s when people started paying attention to it. But it’s ironic that that’s what happened. I mean, that’s what it took for the holiday to become a holiday.

I personally want to see Juneteenth celebrated but contextualized. It should be a celebration, but we ought to understand what it means in the bigger picture, and we should understand it as a doorway to education and insight that we didn’t have before. That’s what I want to see. I want to see it understood so that everything around it is understood. I want it to be understood because I’m hoping that we can understand the danger of justice denied. I want to see it understood, so it can’t be repeated again. Juneteenth is really more relevant now in this moment than it would have been in possibly any other time in the past few decades. But it’s also relevant because, well, it shows us how far we’ve come. It should stand as a beacon for how far we can go. But what it’s going to take is not let Juneteenth be as collusive a moment, but part of a bigger understanding and insight into what history has been and what we don’t ever want to go back to again.

[00:27:50] SO: How do you feel about members of Congress agreeing to the Juneteenth holiday as a symbolic gesture? How do we make it more than just – Because I see Janet’s quick little eyebrow there.

[00:28:01] JS: Sorry. [inaudible 00:28:02] the eyes.

[00:28:03] SO: Hey, it’s your honest opinion. So what do we feel about kind of – Even then the changing of perceptions of this feel that it’s more performative than it’s natural with, again, that we’re not trying to push anything that isn’t what’s actually in our history, what’s happened in the United States of America. So I don’t want anyone wants to touch on that but –

[00:28:24] LA: Let me [inaudible 00:28:24] one point to what you’re saying. One thing that’s interesting, I saw that one of the politicians who was against the holiday, a couple of them, has said that what they don’t like is they don’t want to call it Independence Day because it will confuse it with July the 4th. I kind of look at it and say, “Well, whether or not it’s confused depends on who was free.” I’m not confused. I know we weren’t. My people weren’t free on July 4th, so we know it wasn’t Independence Day. But we have a tendency because this is a sensitive issue. We have a tendency to get caught up and trip over ourselves with language in ways that it’s not helpful.

The bottom line, you’re going to have two Independence Days because we had two Independence Days. So what we call it is irrelevant. For you to say you don’t want to have it or you don’t want to see it became a holiday because you don’t like what it’s called, that to me is obstructionism and that’s the kind of stuff that we have to get past if we’re ever going to make any progress on anything in this country.

[00:29:18] KC: To Janet’s point, I think part of why this is so relevant now, to the question that you’re asking to me, is this awareness that equity and justice are not evenly distributed, right? So even when we put out a new law, it is not evenly distributed to folks. Even when we decided that some people were free, it was not evenly distributed to folks. There’s value in being able to understand that, that you don’t change culture with the kind of swipe of a pen, right? There’s communication that goes into that. There’s support that goes into that. There’s behavior that goes into that. I think that these are all really positive things for us to be able to talk about, and that’s why it’s so relevant right now is that the world has almost never been smaller, right? We all have platforms.

Again, to Janet’s point, like she posted something this morning, and people are already reposting it, commenting on it, and being inspired by it. That’s a wonderful thing. So it doesn’t mean that when we look back on some of the scars of our past that we’re looking back and saying everything was wrong and everything is horrible. What we’re saying is that we should understand it. What we’re saying is that we should be able to contextualize it. What we’re saying is that all of those people mattered and that history is filled with all of those people, just the same way that our corporations are filled with all of those people. So if we’re only looking at our engagement scores and looking at the ones that are saying, “Yup, everything is awesome here,” and we say, “Great. Company is good,” we can move forward. But we’re not recognizing that we’ve left a bunch of people behind.

Or to John’s point about going back into offices and recognizing that not everybody is excited about that or not everybody has childcare or not everybody can do the things that some can do, if we’re only looking at that kind of top percent and saying, “Hey, they’re good. So that means we’re all good.” Then I think that that is – It’s just an organizational miss, it’s a cultural miss, and it’s something that we need to reckon with. I think that this is not the single moment that’s going to allow us to do all of that, but this is an example of that space, where people are saying, “Well, whoa, whoa. Won’t this be confusing?” We’re saying, “Well, you know what helps with confusion? Communication and education and discussion.”

So if you think it’s going to be confusing, how much worse do you think it is where we’re not talking about these things? I just feel like there’s an amazing opportunity. That, for me, is why it’s so relevant right now is that we are contending with different histories and different facts and different places to get our data. The more that we can start to come together and have some really shared and open and honest conversations about who we’ve been, who we are, and who we want to be, I think it inherently benefits all of us.

[00:31:56] SO: I wanted to ask, how does your personal history as a black person in America guide your current life and work? Khalil, I want to specifically toss this one to you first. Kind of tell us about your background and kind of where that led you into your current space?

[00:32:09] KC: Yeah. I mean, specifically for me, as I thought a little bit about this, I have been the manager of 3 people, 30 people, 300 people. I’ve had the fortune of doing a lot of things but I’ve always been a black boy. I will always be a black male. That is the thing that doesn’t change, no matter where I go and no matter what I do, and it has absolutely influenced the way that I engage in the world. It’s influenced kind of how I approach things. I think that in a lot of ways, it has made me a more empathetic leader because I am more aware of the spaces that I’m in and the way that I operate and how I’m perceived and how I perceive others and how I create opportunities.

For me, there’s kind of spaces that I’ve grown up in. The ways that I’ve been supported or not supported, the things that I’ve seen and done have always just been a part of the fabric of who I am. So in my current work, and I go right back to what John was saying, which is as I’m thinking about inclusion, diversity, and engagement, I am thinking about that for the entire population. I’m not looking at kind of raising one group over another or only focusing in a particular area. I’m seeing the gaps. I’m seeing the misses. I’m seeing the opportunities and saying what are the things that we can do that actually lift up everyone, that create more of that equity, that create more of that fairness.

I used to work with an amazing leader who would always say, and I know many folks have heard it, “A rising tide raises all boats.” So this notion of how do we raise people up, how do I kind of see the experiences that certain groups and demographics and individuals are having. Then use those experiences to inform better practices and policies and systems and procedures to be able to lift the entire group up. It’s just a natural part of kind of how I’ve grown up, and so there’s no part of that that I would change. Yet I recognize that when I’m on a webinar, in a suit jacket, communicating in one way, I may be seen in one way. When I get in my car and drive someplace or when I’m telling my eldest son when he goes out, and he’s driving around, those are some very relevant things for me. I’ve had to navigate those spaces and I get to navigate those spaces. That’s something that I’m extremely fortunate.

[00:34:22] JE: I just so resonated with so much of what Khalil has said. I’m the son of an immigrant, a mother who came to this country looking for the American dream. When she arrived here, her job for years was either sewing clothes or cleaning toilets, and she saved up money so that our family could be brought over one by one. I have two older sisters. So her whole purpose is that I would be the first male in our family history to be able to go possibly to college, which did come to fruition.

My whole perspective is that, much like Khalil, some people are called to be systemic change agents, but everybody’s called to be a personal change agent. So at the end of the day, whatever has happened in my life, what have I done to sort of help be part of the solution and not part of the problem, right? Are we transferring pain into progress? So we all have that sort of individual responsibility at a moment like this. We are all here for such a time as this. It’s now a right moment to participate in the conversation, to drive the dialogue towards potential solutions, to increase understanding. I think for those of us who have been blessed with leadership roles, how are we bringing humility and empathy to the table, and creating that psychologically safe environment for folks to literally grow, for allies to emerge? How are we empowering all of that? That’s the personal takeaway, I think, for many of us is to sort of examine how are we becoming part of the solution.

[00:35:47] SO: That’s perfect. There’s a lot of conversation happening, and I do want to make sure that we get into our final section, which is what are we doing for the future, right? So we’ve had this conversation, we’ve talked about the past, we’ve mentioned our history, but where are we going, right? How do we continue this conversation? There was a great point to be made about, especially for those who are not black, right? How do you acknowledge? How do you address? How do you examine this moment? Do you celebrate? Are you here in the moment for Juneteenth? What is it that you do?

One of the recommendations for our panel or what we want to do is just give you an opportunity to learn, to spend that time. One of the things that we would like to share as a group is some recommendations on some further discussion learning. I wanted to share as well. I wanted to highlight specifically a podcast that I enjoy called Code Switch. That’s produced by NPR. It’s hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, and they have beautiful conversations on race. But I want to specifically highlight an episode called Location! Location! Location!. That beautifully addresses how the legal practices of housing discrimination permeates through all aspects of black lives.

So, yes, we’ve talked about the history of Juneteenth. But once slavery ended, it wasn’t like, “Yay, black people. Everything’s great, right?” There’s Jim Crow. There’s segregation. Then it also ended up with housing discrimination. So between generational wealth, schools and education, health, safety, and policing, all of that is dependent on where you live, right? If you think about your house and where you live, a lot of that’s tied to that. There’s a great episode on location specifically about that, so I definitely recommend checking out that podcast, but specifically that episode.

Now, I’m going to toss it to Dr. Ammons first. I know some of the stuff that you referenced was in this book that you’re recommending to everyone here.

[00:37:38] LA: Absolutely. I recommend anyone to pick up the book from John Hope Franklin and Evelyn Higginbotham, the ninth edition in particular, because I should say to you that there are over 12 different editions of this book. Particularly, the ninth one was slavery to freedom. If you want an in-depth understanding of the African American experience, not only in America but throughout the global community, this is a great book.

[00:38:02] SO: Thank you. Thank you. John, what are you recommending to our audience today?

[00:38:09] JE: Given my addiction to food, I’m recommending High on the Hog. It is about the remarkable influence of black American and African foods on the history of this country. But you are going to learn a bit more about resilience. You’re going to learn a bit more even about contemporary issues that our population currently faces. So no matter what your background or history, you’re going to discover some very fascinating insights from this program.

[00:38:34] SO: I’m a foodie too, so, yes, absolutely. Khalil, I want to go to you. What is the recommendation you are giving to our audience today?

[00:38:42] KS: I am recommending The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Many folks may have read it, but just an incredibly insightful dig into understanding how mass incarceration, over policing, sentencing, all of those things have extremely negative implications on an entire population. So I think many folks can sometimes go to a place of individual responsibility. If you just don’t do bad things, well, then everything will be fine. Yet when you start to really uncover and understand some of the institutionalized over policing, it is incredibly powerful. So loved it, and it’s an incredibly kind of fluid read.

[00:39:22] SO: Perfect. Last but not least, Janet.

[00:39:25] JS: Well, I’m going to recommend How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith and I’m going to admit to some similarity bias. Clint Smith is a Davidson College graduate, and I’m a Davidson College graduate. I think it’s important to know the Wildcats [inaudible 00:39:39]. But Clint’s a poet. He’s done several pieces. But this book, which just came out, talks about monuments and landmarks. What he’s talking about is literally how the word is passed, how the story of slavery and black America is told. Some of it true, some of it not. There is a chapter in there about Juneteenth, but he also talks about some of these plantation recreations and how this is how the narrative is written through these monuments and these different landmarks. Like I said, some of it is true and some of it is not. But it’s a fascinating read to just watch. He starts in New Orleans and goes across the country. It is a fascinating read. I recommend it highly.

[00:40:24] SO: Just so you know, our recommendations are just a small taste of the recommendations that we have. I would love to share and announce a few more with you that there is a much larger list of resources that the NLI has compiled and posted on our brand new web page, neuroleadership.com/Juneteenth. You will find this resource list that is downloadable, so you can use it. Share it with people that you know. Share the web page with people that you know. This episode today will live on that page as well.

By all means, please don’t think that our resources is a comprehensive list. You won’t make it. The list didn’t magically know everything there is to know about black Americans, race, and how to have discussions on the topic. You can’t just check off the box and be like done. It’s meant to be a stepping stone and a guide for you, especially if you don’t know where to start. But we hope that this is kind of a way for you to kind of answer those questions on your own and begin that conversation if you don’t know how to.

But I wanted to start and wrap up with this. If anyone has any parting words. Dr. Ammons, I know you may have some key things that you want to take away with some people. So I may want to toss it over to you to kind of give a quick little wrap up.

[00:41:29] LA: One is that knowing your history will keep you from doing to repeat it. I’m sure that’s [inaudible 00:41:34] everybody’s heard. We prosper more together when we use different perspective and help to optimize results. The last thing is the power of resilience and persistence will never leave you wrong. Those are my last ones. Those are my three things that I think that to certainly should take away from this conversation. There are other things that you can live by and not just for African Americans but for humans, period. You got to know your history to make sure you don’t repeat it.

[00:42:04] SO: You can say that. John, what about you?

[00:42:09] JE: Just as a follow on and to further validate the terrific words we just heard, I would love for us all, no matter our background, no matter the color of our skin, to return back to a time of storytelling. We’ve all had experiences. Nothing drives understanding in the human brain better than storytelling. So I would love for us to continue to gather around the table as we’ve been forced to in 2020, as a result of the pandemic, and tell some stories. That will drive the understanding of the next generation and the generation after them. We are a people of storytelling, but I think we’ve lost that. So by talking about the stories of our lives and those who have come before us and the sacrifices they’ve made, it helps to drive this hope and sense of resiliency that enables us to deal with whatever’s going to be coming our way tomorrow.

[00:42:55] JS: I will speak directly to the businesses they’re trying to do this. Basically, understand that history’s value is context for the present, but it’s a caveat for the future. So never shy away if you’re a business or you have a leadership role for using business because I do believe that business is where a lot of this can change. Don’t use the business. Use it wisely with intention. Take a history. Commemorate it. Bring it there. Give it context. Understanding and acknowledging is both a responsibility and an opportunity. Be transformative, not performative.

[00:43:30] KS: Yeah, absolutely. So just two quick things, and one that I’ve mentioned before and I think we all have is don’t let the calendar be the only thing that drives our acknowledgement or awareness, right? John spoke about the seeds model, and distance bias is super clear. If the only time you tell your partner you love them is on Valentine’s Day, you’re missing something. If the only time you tell your children you care for them is on their birthday, you’re missing something. If the only time you’re having conversations about black history is Juneteenth or Black History Month, you’re missing something. So it can be a good reminder. But if it’s the only thing that’s driving, then there’s a miss there.

Then the second I think is encourage folks not to only focus on the beliefs. Pay attention to the behaviors as well. I think that’s the thing that we’re seeing from so many folks and their reaction is, yes, this is wonderful. What about those voting rights that Janet spoke about? What about the brutality that we’ve been discussing? What about some of these other things where we’re really asking for systemic changes, and we’re asking for more representation, and we’re asking for more senior leaders at the table? So having the day off is incredible if we do something with it. If not and it just becomes another day that I don’t have to work, then it’s in a lot of ways a failure.

[00:44:41] SO: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Ammons, John, Khalil, Janet. I could not have done this without you.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:44:51] CD: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producers are Matt Holodak, Danielle Kirshenblat, Shadé Olasimbo, and me, Cliff David. Original music is by Grant Subritsky, and logo design is by Catch Wear. We’ll see you next time.

[END]

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:05] SO: When was the first time you heard about Juneteenth? Did your elementary school teacher mention it in passing? Or maybe you stumbled across it in a textbook in high school? Maybe you’ve been celebrating it your whole life. Or quite possibly, you’re hearing about it for the first time right now. No matter where you first learned, there’s no doubt that you’ve been hearing about it a lot more recently. The United States Congress has just declared Juneteenth a federal holiday. It’s the first new federal holiday since Congress approved a bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. But more important than the passage of the bill is the event that Juneteenth commemorates, the emancipation of black Americans. So now, organizations and people across the country are asking what they can and should do to mark the occasion.

In this episode, we’ve invited an esteemed panel to discuss Juneteenth from a historical perspective, how it resonates and moves communities today, and where the conversation is going in the future. Together, they explore what meaningful ways that companies, leaders, and society at large can do to deploy efforts and resources to create a more just, diverse, and equitable future.

Hi, I’m Shadé Olasimbo, a Senior Producer at the NeuroLeadership Institute, and I’ll be your host for this special Juneteenth episode of Your Brain At Work. This week, our guests include an esteemed professor of African American Studies at Howard University, Dr. Laila Ammons; an award winning speaker and author, Senior Client Strategist at the NeuroLeadership Institute, John Edwards; the former Vice President of Research, Practices, and Consulting at an NLI and current Vice President of Inclusion, Diversity, and Engagement at Akamai, Khalil Smith; and a wildly recognized and respected speaker, speech writer, and thought leader, Senior Client Strategist at the NeuroLeadership Institute, Janet Stovall. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. Thanks for joining us and enjoy.

[EPISODE]

[00:02:31] SO: You know why we’re here today, for a special episode of Your Brain At Work to talk about Juneteenth, the newly passed federal holiday in Congress as of yesterday. But the question is why? Well, in 2020, NLI and many other organizations in the country officially recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday, which is why for some of our regulars, you’ll notice that we moved today’s session to a Thursday because the NeuroLeadership Institute employees are off tomorrow in observance of the holiday.

I’m also very curious to hear about some of your companies. So if you offer Juneteenth or if there’s any program around the holidays, please let us know in the chat because we would love to talk about that a little bit later in the session. But we’re here today because it’s an important time to recognize this holiday, one that you may have heard about in passing, you were lucky to learn about in school, or you may not have been exposed to until your adult life, most likely in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. No matter where you learn this knowledge, we’re happy to have you here for this discussion. But I want to, as we anchor on science, dive into the session and bring you back to that seeds model.

One of the things that we like to say at NLI is if you have a brain, you have bias. So with that model, we narrowed down some of the types of bias and the five main categories; similarity, experience, distance, and safety. Because when we identify the types of biases we have, we can help to mitigate those. But I want to hone in specifically on experienced bias. We can go our whole lives without knowing about something so substantial and in the context specifically around Juneteenth, something that has meaning and importance to a large group of people. Because we have such varying knowledge or experience with that history, the dark history of the United States, we need to create more intentional platforms for shared knowledge and opportunities to deepen our understanding of one another. So that is what today is about, examining Juneteenth as our collective history. So now, I am going to turn the reins over to Dr. Ammons.

[00:04:26] LA: Thank you so much. Today, I want to talk about the evolution of Juneteenth as a holiday. It is a holiday that’s been celebrated for over 155 years, and it’s not well-known. Two, I want to talk about the tradition of African Americans, tradition of Juneteenth as a holiday. I also want to talk about Juneteenth as a day of resilience, as well as it is [inaudible 00:04:54] of persistence and never giving up. Lastly, I want to talk about why Juneteenth is relevant in 2021.

The story of African Americans start with the 20 Africans that arrived in Virginia in 1619. They were bought or sold into servitude. By 1705, the Virginia Assembly had declared all Negroes, mulattoes, and Native Americans as property. By 1750, slavery was legalized in all of the 13 colonies, not only Virginia. The Civil War started in 1861 when a military group of 13 states to call themselves the Confederacy attacked a federal garrison at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. That during this war, over 185,000 African American soldiers joining Union troops, and about 3,000 lost their lives. Shortly, two years after the Civil War started Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it did not free all slaves. It only freed slaves in the rebel states and not the law states.

Now, some of the slave owners of Confederate States did not think that they had to abide by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Indeed, the word got out that the Union troop’s soldiers were in Mississippi and Louisiana. As soon as that word, they began to hear it, then slavers fled with their slaves to the southwest to an area where Union troops were not present and where they had heard that Texas was slave haven. But to see that in 1861, African Americans got the word in South Carolina, so they were celebrating, and we see a picture of that.

Also important to note that the Union troops, colored troops, also were very instrumental in helping to spread the word to African Americans that they were free. On this day, June 19th, 1865, the day that enslaved African Americans in Texas, formally was informed and told that they were free by General Granger. But freedom did not mean or equate to social and political economic freedom. The executive order, and here is the text of that executive order. I’m not going to read this executive order, but I do want to draw your attention to the last paragraph, and I will read this comment. The freedmen are advised “to remain quietly in their present homes and work for wages.” They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and they will not be supported [inaudible 00:08:02] either there or elsewhere.

To get the full intent of this, you see that African Americans were pretty much left on their own. They were going to have to make a way for themselves. To recognize this day as a day of liberation, African Americans celebrated Juneteenth for organizing such festivities as parades, barbecues, dances, games, prayers, stores, and they pay tribute to honor the color troops that were instrumental also in helping to spread the word. Food became a central feature of the Juneteenth holiday, and participants would bring their favorite dish, which often included items not eaten on a daily basis such as lamb and pork and desserts. Now, red foods such as watermelon, strawberry, soda pop, and red velvet cake were feature items to symbolize the blood their ancestors spilled to freedom. The teacakes were some of the desserts used by enslaved person as a special treat, and this is according to the director of the Juneteenth Commission. When I was a little girl, my mother used to make them for me.

It’s important to note that there are laws that African America were not to dress up. At these celebrations, African American normally wore their finest clothes. We also see that in Washington DC. In 1866, they also had gotten the word and they were celebrating Juneteenth. It’s important to note that the period following the Civil War was called reconstruction. It’s clear that African Americans had made modest gains, political gains. Some were elected to Congress and some to the House of Representatives, and African men had the right to vote. That is some progress has been made. No African American making progress but everyone was making progress.

Now, out of the fear that blacks would take their jobs, [inaudible 00:09:59] again to rewrite the history of the Civil War, and white supremacy triumphed. They produced false narratives, fake news to suggest that African Americans were unable to govern and that reconstruction had been a failure. The Daughters of the American Revolutionary War sought to make sure that their children learned their version of history. They helped to sponsor monuments to celebrate confederate leaders and promote them as the real hero of American history.

All of this led to Jim Crowism, segregation, anti-black violence, and a written history of the Civil War. African Americans found themselves completely without any political rights by the 1900s. So there were ebbs and flows in the celebration. By the 1900s, Juneteenth participation began to decline due to the Great Depression, and many African Americans went to urban areas in search of job opportunities. Employers were not very sympathetic to recently arrived immigrants and did not give time off for this celebration. If the holiday did not fall on the weekends, few participated. Classrooms and textbooks do emphasize expensive African Americans as an enslaved person and emphasize the Emancipation Proclamation’s date, January 1st, 1863, as the date of freedom, and did not mention Juneteenth.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, it was a rekindling of interest due to the civil rights movement when students that were protesters and demonstrators began to wear buttons to show that they link their struggle for racial equality and voting rights to that of their ancestor who has struggled for freedom, another incident with the Poor People Campaign in Washington, DC. But that March in 1968, the participants in that march, they returned home and began to organize Juneteenth, and this helped to re-popularize, and it began to spread into areas that had not been before. In 1980, with the help of Al Edwards, Texas had become the first state to honor Juneteenth. This young man here provides us with one of the reasons why folks fought so hard, so very hard, to make this day a holiday, so youth to learn that history. Philadelphia is a very important place because it is this place where the first constitution of this country was written.

Now, Juneteenth is about persistence and being successful against the odds. Juneteenth serves as a reminder of America pass and serve as an inspiration for all Americans to see what’s possible with resilience and hope for a brighter future. Juneteenth is an opportunity for everybody to do the right thing. We all have seen evidence of people trying to rewrite history. It’s time for us to educate ourselves. You should educate yourself, learn about the different cultures, that African Americans did not wait for somebody to help us. We provide an opportunity for ourselves by using activism and protest in order to take control of our narrative, to make America stay truth and to press it to keep the promise of equality. Juneteenth, I’m so happy that the Congress has decided to make it. Hopefully, President Biden will assign it, as Shadé mentioned in the very beginning, to make it a national holiday.

[00:13:55] SO: Thank you for that, Dr. Ammons. As we transition to the next portion is for many people, Juneteenth became a recognized holiday after the murder of George Floyd. I kind of want to ask our panel how you feel about how companies navigate the holiday today. I know I want to toss this to you specifically first, John, because I know you have a lot of experience, specifically with clients and working with them, not only in your career but at NLI. I want to kind of touch on your opinions on this first about how you feel about how companies have navigated the holiday even before, again, this national recognition as of this year.

[00:14:31] JE: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. It’s no great surprise to anyone that there has just been a flurry of inquiries from organizations wanting to figure out how do we have the right conversations in our work environment as a result of the social unrest and the horrors that we were witnessing in the last 18 months, much less now bringing in the conversation really around the history of what’s been going on across the United States and, in my case, the Caribbean since that’s where I’m originally from. So organizations are really diving in. Let’s just say it’s a sensitive conversation to have.

For many folks, the recent experiences are really creating an awareness in them and a drive to want to have the right kinds of conversation, and so a number of questions have emerged in businesses and corporations across the country. Number one is what’s the problem we need to solve for, how do we help our employees, and what’s the role that a leader or an executive has in nurturing and helping and creating an environment where the right thing is being done and people are being treated in the right way. That’s one of the things that’s so exciting for me about NLI and why I was so thrilled to become part of this team.

NLI takes a scientific perspective on it, and what we’ve discovered is you introduced the seeds model before, and we have a few other models as well. By taking a scientific perspective, we’ve been able to give organizations a language that they can use to have that conversation and to start that particular process. We’re finding remarkably effective numbers. We’re talking about numbers in the 70 percentile and 80 percentile of leaders are coming back and saying, “I am now mitigating bias on a regular reoccurring basis.” So really remarkable results that have been seen from the terrific work that’s been done. That’s a really step one that I see organizations are taking, and I sort of put it into this model, right? It’s a recognition, education, understanding model.

So when we think about Juneteenth, the first thing is what are we going to do to recognize it? A lot of organizations, now that this is the federal holiday, are saying, “Hey, I’ve got tomorrow off.” There are other companies that are saying, “I want to give you flex holidays, and you choose which ones you want to take off.” I think the bottom line is organizations are going to have to take a look at how they want to deal with this particular day and recognize the growing importance that it has. Part of that recognition is that, you know what, this is not just about black American history. This is about American history and the influence that the history of black Americans have had and the full integration of American history. So really recognizing the significance of that commonality there I think is important for organizations.

Then you get to the education piece, and that is where we start talking about things like our ally program, one of our new programs we’ve just rolled out around how you can become a better ally, not only in the workplace but in social environments as well, and our flex program, which is how do you return to a hybrid work environment. The reason that’s important here is because we’re seeing a lot of data about how African Americans feel a deeper sense of belonging in a hybrid environment than they’ve ever felt in the regular work environment. So how do companies make that transition to a hybrid work environment without hurting that sense of belonging that underrepresented groups are having.

Then we get to the understanding part of my formula, which is really around recognizing the intersectionality between black American history and other represented groups in the organization as well and just recognizing how important that is to see how that all comes together as one versus a conversation that just keeps everything really segregated. Because if we do that, we’re just talking about black American history, where we’re alienating other individuals in the workforce, our Asian American friends, etc., underrepresented groups. When you really study as this terrific overview is given us, when you really study black American history, you see a lot of intersectionality in how we’ve all influenced each other.

[00:18:18] SO: Thank you for that, John. I love the way specifically you’re talking about how it’s important to communicate and like make sure we have these avenues for opening up that we’re not excluding, right? One of the things that NLI says, “If you’re not actively including, you’re excluding.” So that’s really important. Then, Janet, I kind of want to toss it to you because I know specifically your background in communication. I want to stress your background in communications and how companies specifically can navigate. How do you talk about this, right? How do you address this and do it right? How do you – I know that you have some thoughts specifically on this. There’s a post you put out today that I would love to have you kind of address as well.

[00:18:57] JS: Sure. That’s right. My background is communications, and it’s in marketing a lot. So when you think about how companies deal with this, they generally do it on two fronts. They’re talking internally to their employees and they’re talking externally to the outside world. Most companies come to Juneteenth with the best of intentions. Of course, they do. But good intentions without good insight can create some really negative implications, and insight starts with education, as [inaudible 00:19:25] said.

By the same token, to paraphrase E. Franklin Frazier, who was the first black sociologist, first black president of the American Sociological society, said, “Education can be too much inspiration and too little information.” If companies are going to step into this space, they should step into it with the same intention and insight that they would any other marketing or executive or employee communications type of work.

For example, if you think you’re going to create a graphic out there in the world that says, “Celebrate Juneteenth,” but you’re not giving employees a day off, how is that the best way to celebrate it? Or if you write a sentence that says, “July 19th, 1865 was when slavery ended.” The truth is it didn’t. It didn’t until December with the passing of the 13th Amendment. Best ones I’ve seen lately. Like Dr. Ammon said, one of the traditions of Juneteenth is to have red food. I know personally, as somebody who works for a company that put together these wonderful gift boxes, and in it there was popcorn, watermelon-flavored popcorn. Now, I don’t need to say why that was probably a bad idea. I will ask the question, who did they ask about that?

So I think you have to – When you plan these things as a company, you need to find the people who are affected and ask some questions. Go ask some black people. In this company’s defense, they chose a supplier that was a black-owned company. But I will say once again, maybe they should have thought that through a little bit. So little education, you got to understand what it is you’re trying to do. If you’re going to commemorate it, you need to understand it. The bottom line is Juneteenth can be an amazing thing for amplifying black American voices, as John said, for putting black history in the context of American history. It can do all those things. The trick is to be transformative not to be performative. That’s going to require paying attention to what you’re doing, doing with intention, and knowing exactly what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with celebrating this holiday.

[00:21:27] LA: I just want to add that that you’re absolutely right. I think you have to understand the intent of the holiday. One of the things that I did not mention is that this holiday, my people thought that everybody were just basically just having a party and having a good time. But a little known secret is that it was an opportunity for the black elected officials to come and recruit to get people to support them and to talk about how they could indeed gain political power. So as corporations attempt to take advantage this Juneteenth holiday, I think it’s very important, as Janet has indicated, that they are fully aware of what the real intent that people had and take the opportunity to try to come up with ways to bring us together, as opposed for us to be separate.

Indeed, this is an opportunity, as I’ve already mentioned, for us to actually educate ourselves, learn other people culture because that’s what history is all about. History is about having us to learn what our ancestors had done and how they interact with other folks so that we can indeed create a better future. So I just say to companies to take this opportunity to learn about others that we’re all humans and to try and do to make the pie larger, as opposed to smaller.

[BREAK]

[00:22:52] ANNOUNCER: You love listening to Your Brain At Work, and we love hearing your feedback. It’s a beautiful working relationship and it’s why we’d appreciate it if you could take just a few minutes to complete our listener survey. Visit neuroleadership.com/podsurvey to let us know what you love about the show, what we can do to improve it, and topics you’d like to hear more about. Now, let’s get back to the show.

[INTERVIEW RESUMED]

[00:23:17] KS: I think the essence of a lot of what we’re describing is don’t make this just a day and do your homework leading up to it. If we marry those two ideas, it is constantly continue to educate yourself and to understand. John, to your point around like how does that become just an organizational muscle because so many folks have had their moment in the spotlight that we don’t want, right? We don’t want to kind of have to be on the front page of the newspaper before something comes up or a moment in time or a moment on the calendar before we start to pay attention. What we’re asking for is actually educate yourself the entire year, right? Ask these questions. Get prepared for Juneteenth in January, not at the beginning of June, right?

Janet, to your point, it’s when you’re scrambling to make those things happen that you find, well, we don’t have time to check in with our African American ERG or we don’t have time to kind of do our due diligence, and so let’s just throw something together and get it out there. I think that rushed to react, as opposed to truly making it an institutional muscle, is why we do the wrong thing sometimes. So if we can just kind of – For everybody, listen in to the thing that these experts have said around don’t make it a moment in time, do your due diligence, understand. There’s lots of information and education out there, and we just need to be willing and open to it.

[00:24:38] SO: What are you seeing now specifically in the country and in the world that makes Juneteenth especially relevant today? Again, yes, Congress just passed the bill. We’re waiting for it to get signed on, if it’s officially been on. I got a Google in the background. On the other hand, we’re also still fighting state legislators that are arguing whether or not to teach race and, frankly, American history in schools. So I really kind of want to get your thoughts on this. I’m going to go to Janet first. Specifically, I want to know your thoughts on where this is.

[00:25:07] JS: Well, I mean, the truth of the matter is pretty much all of us are thrilled that Juneteenth is going to be made a holiday. For me, personally, part of what makes it so wonderful is that it can actually be taught, that people can know about it. I believe if you start teaching one part of history, like John was saying, it puts it in context of American history. But history is a series of breadcrumbs and connections. So if you can teach this part of history, it then teaches another part. Eventually, you may be sitting in classes, and we may hear about things. We open the door to teach things like the burning of black Tulsa. We may talk about the Wilmington Race Riots, how that was the first political insurrection. We can talk about the fact that there’s a black city, Oscarville, buried under Lake Lanier, here in Georgia, where I am. We can find out about these things. That should be what happens, right?

But to your point, it’s ironic. Or someone more cynical might say intentional, depending how you look at it, that here we are celebrating a holiday, making a national holiday, at the same time that we have six states in the process of trying to stop the teaching of systemic racism in the schools or in black history or any kind of history that would have these kinds of things in it. You got 14 states that are enacting, restricting voting access. You’ve got police brutality still there. I mean, and whether it’s fair or not that Juneteenth as a holiday became a holiday after the death of George Floyd. It is linked to that, and that’s when people started paying attention to it. But it’s ironic that that’s what happened. I mean, that’s what it took for the holiday to become a holiday.

I personally want to see Juneteenth celebrated but contextualized. It should be a celebration, but we ought to understand what it means in the bigger picture, and we should understand it as a doorway to education and insight that we didn’t have before. That’s what I want to see. I want to see it understood so that everything around it is understood. I want it to be understood because I’m hoping that we can understand the danger of justice denied. I want to see it understood, so it can’t be repeated again. Juneteenth is really more relevant now in this moment than it would have been in possibly any other time in the past few decades. But it’s also relevant because, well, it shows us how far we’ve come. It should stand as a beacon for how far we can go. But what it’s going to take is not let Juneteenth be as collusive a moment, but part of a bigger understanding and insight into what history has been and what we don’t ever want to go back to again.

[00:27:50] SO: How do you feel about members of Congress agreeing to the Juneteenth holiday as a symbolic gesture? How do we make it more than just – Because I see Janet’s quick little eyebrow there.

[00:28:01] JS: Sorry. [inaudible 00:28:02] the eyes.

[00:28:03] SO: Hey, it’s your honest opinion. So what do we feel about kind of – Even then the changing of perceptions of this feel that it’s more performative than it’s natural with, again, that we’re not trying to push anything that isn’t what’s actually in our history, what’s happened in the United States of America. So I don’t want anyone wants to touch on that but –

[00:28:24] LA: Let me [inaudible 00:28:24] one point to what you’re saying. One thing that’s interesting, I saw that one of the politicians who was against the holiday, a couple of them, has said that what they don’t like is they don’t want to call it Independence Day because it will confuse it with July the 4th. I kind of look at it and say, “Well, whether or not it’s confused depends on who was free.” I’m not confused. I know we weren’t. My people weren’t free on July 4th, so we know it wasn’t Independence Day. But we have a tendency because this is a sensitive issue. We have a tendency to get caught up and trip over ourselves with language in ways that it’s not helpful.

The bottom line, you’re going to have two Independence Days because we had two Independence Days. So what we call it is irrelevant. For you to say you don’t want to have it or you don’t want to see it became a holiday because you don’t like what it’s called, that to me is obstructionism and that’s the kind of stuff that we have to get past if we’re ever going to make any progress on anything in this country.

[00:29:18] KC: To Janet’s point, I think part of why this is so relevant now, to the question that you’re asking to me, is this awareness that equity and justice are not evenly distributed, right? So even when we put out a new law, it is not evenly distributed to folks. Even when we decided that some people were free, it was not evenly distributed to folks. There’s value in being able to understand that, that you don’t change culture with the kind of swipe of a pen, right? There’s communication that goes into that. There’s support that goes into that. There’s behavior that goes into that. I think that these are all really positive things for us to be able to talk about, and that’s why it’s so relevant right now is that the world has almost never been smaller, right? We all have platforms.

Again, to Janet’s point, like she posted something this morning, and people are already reposting it, commenting on it, and being inspired by it. That’s a wonderful thing. So it doesn’t mean that when we look back on some of the scars of our past that we’re looking back and saying everything was wrong and everything is horrible. What we’re saying is that we should understand it. What we’re saying is that we should be able to contextualize it. What we’re saying is that all of those people mattered and that history is filled with all of those people, just the same way that our corporations are filled with all of those people. So if we’re only looking at our engagement scores and looking at the ones that are saying, “Yup, everything is awesome here,” and we say, “Great. Company is good,” we can move forward. But we’re not recognizing that we’ve left a bunch of people behind.

Or to John’s point about going back into offices and recognizing that not everybody is excited about that or not everybody has childcare or not everybody can do the things that some can do, if we’re only looking at that kind of top percent and saying, “Hey, they’re good. So that means we’re all good.” Then I think that that is – It’s just an organizational miss, it’s a cultural miss, and it’s something that we need to reckon with. I think that this is not the single moment that’s going to allow us to do all of that, but this is an example of that space, where people are saying, “Well, whoa, whoa. Won’t this be confusing?” We’re saying, “Well, you know what helps with confusion? Communication and education and discussion.”

So if you think it’s going to be confusing, how much worse do you think it is where we’re not talking about these things? I just feel like there’s an amazing opportunity. That, for me, is why it’s so relevant right now is that we are contending with different histories and different facts and different places to get our data. The more that we can start to come together and have some really shared and open and honest conversations about who we’ve been, who we are, and who we want to be, I think it inherently benefits all of us.

[00:31:56] SO: I wanted to ask, how does your personal history as a black person in America guide your current life and work? Khalil, I want to specifically toss this one to you first. Kind of tell us about your background and kind of where that led you into your current space?

[00:32:09] KC: Yeah. I mean, specifically for me, as I thought a little bit about this, I have been the manager of 3 people, 30 people, 300 people. I’ve had the fortune of doing a lot of things but I’ve always been a black boy. I will always be a black male. That is the thing that doesn’t change, no matter where I go and no matter what I do, and it has absolutely influenced the way that I engage in the world. It’s influenced kind of how I approach things. I think that in a lot of ways, it has made me a more empathetic leader because I am more aware of the spaces that I’m in and the way that I operate and how I’m perceived and how I perceive others and how I create opportunities.

For me, there’s kind of spaces that I’ve grown up in. The ways that I’ve been supported or not supported, the things that I’ve seen and done have always just been a part of the fabric of who I am. So in my current work, and I go right back to what John was saying, which is as I’m thinking about inclusion, diversity, and engagement, I am thinking about that for the entire population. I’m not looking at kind of raising one group over another or only focusing in a particular area. I’m seeing the gaps. I’m seeing the misses. I’m seeing the opportunities and saying what are the things that we can do that actually lift up everyone, that create more of that equity, that create more of that fairness.

I used to work with an amazing leader who would always say, and I know many folks have heard it, “A rising tide raises all boats.” So this notion of how do we raise people up, how do I kind of see the experiences that certain groups and demographics and individuals are having. Then use those experiences to inform better practices and policies and systems and procedures to be able to lift the entire group up. It’s just a natural part of kind of how I’ve grown up, and so there’s no part of that that I would change. Yet I recognize that when I’m on a webinar, in a suit jacket, communicating in one way, I may be seen in one way. When I get in my car and drive someplace or when I’m telling my eldest son when he goes out, and he’s driving around, those are some very relevant things for me. I’ve had to navigate those spaces and I get to navigate those spaces. That’s something that I’m extremely fortunate.

[00:34:22] JE: I just so resonated with so much of what Khalil has said. I’m the son of an immigrant, a mother who came to this country looking for the American dream. When she arrived here, her job for years was either sewing clothes or cleaning toilets, and she saved up money so that our family could be brought over one by one. I have two older sisters. So her whole purpose is that I would be the first male in our family history to be able to go possibly to college, which did come to fruition.

My whole perspective is that, much like Khalil, some people are called to be systemic change agents, but everybody’s called to be a personal change agent. So at the end of the day, whatever has happened in my life, what have I done to sort of help be part of the solution and not part of the problem, right? Are we transferring pain into progress? So we all have that sort of individual responsibility at a moment like this. We are all here for such a time as this. It’s now a right moment to participate in the conversation, to drive the dialogue towards potential solutions, to increase understanding. I think for those of us who have been blessed with leadership roles, how are we bringing humility and empathy to the table, and creating that psychologically safe environment for folks to literally grow, for allies to emerge? How are we empowering all of that? That’s the personal takeaway, I think, for many of us is to sort of examine how are we becoming part of the solution.

[00:35:47] SO: That’s perfect. There’s a lot of conversation happening, and I do want to make sure that we get into our final section, which is what are we doing for the future, right? So we’ve had this conversation, we’ve talked about the past, we’ve mentioned our history, but where are we going, right? How do we continue this conversation? There was a great point to be made about, especially for those who are not black, right? How do you acknowledge? How do you address? How do you examine this moment? Do you celebrate? Are you here in the moment for Juneteenth? What is it that you do?

One of the recommendations for our panel or what we want to do is just give you an opportunity to learn, to spend that time. One of the things that we would like to share as a group is some recommendations on some further discussion learning. I wanted to share as well. I wanted to highlight specifically a podcast that I enjoy called Code Switch. That’s produced by NPR. It’s hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, and they have beautiful conversations on race. But I want to specifically highlight an episode called Location! Location! Location!. That beautifully addresses how the legal practices of housing discrimination permeates through all aspects of black lives.

So, yes, we’ve talked about the history of Juneteenth. But once slavery ended, it wasn’t like, “Yay, black people. Everything’s great, right?” There’s Jim Crow. There’s segregation. Then it also ended up with housing discrimination. So between generational wealth, schools and education, health, safety, and policing, all of that is dependent on where you live, right? If you think about your house and where you live, a lot of that’s tied to that. There’s a great episode on location specifically about that, so I definitely recommend checking out that podcast, but specifically that episode.

Now, I’m going to toss it to Dr. Ammons first. I know some of the stuff that you referenced was in this book that you’re recommending to everyone here.

[00:37:38] LA: Absolutely. I recommend anyone to pick up the book from John Hope Franklin and Evelyn Higginbotham, the ninth edition in particular, because I should say to you that there are over 12 different editions of this book. Particularly, the ninth one was slavery to freedom. If you want an in-depth understanding of the African American experience, not only in America but throughout the global community, this is a great book.

[00:38:02] SO: Thank you. Thank you. John, what are you recommending to our audience today?

[00:38:09] JE: Given my addiction to food, I’m recommending High on the Hog. It is about the remarkable influence of black American and African foods on the history of this country. But you are going to learn a bit more about resilience. You’re going to learn a bit more even about contemporary issues that our population currently faces. So no matter what your background or history, you’re going to discover some very fascinating insights from this program.

[00:38:34] SO: I’m a foodie too, so, yes, absolutely. Khalil, I want to go to you. What is the recommendation you are giving to our audience today?

[00:38:42] KS: I am recommending The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Many folks may have read it, but just an incredibly insightful dig into understanding how mass incarceration, over policing, sentencing, all of those things have extremely negative implications on an entire population. So I think many folks can sometimes go to a place of individual responsibility. If you just don’t do bad things, well, then everything will be fine. Yet when you start to really uncover and understand some of the institutionalized over policing, it is incredibly powerful. So loved it, and it’s an incredibly kind of fluid read.

[00:39:22] SO: Perfect. Last but not least, Janet.

[00:39:25] JS: Well, I’m going to recommend How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith and I’m going to admit to some similarity bias. Clint Smith is a Davidson College graduate, and I’m a Davidson College graduate. I think it’s important to know the Wildcats [inaudible 00:39:39]. But Clint’s a poet. He’s done several pieces. But this book, which just came out, talks about monuments and landmarks. What he’s talking about is literally how the word is passed, how the story of slavery and black America is told. Some of it true, some of it not. There is a chapter in there about Juneteenth, but he also talks about some of these plantation recreations and how this is how the narrative is written through these monuments and these different landmarks. Like I said, some of it is true and some of it is not. But it’s a fascinating read to just watch. He starts in New Orleans and goes across the country. It is a fascinating read. I recommend it highly.

[00:40:24] SO: Just so you know, our recommendations are just a small taste of the recommendations that we have. I would love to share and announce a few more with you that there is a much larger list of resources that the NLI has compiled and posted on our brand new web page, neuroleadership.com/Juneteenth. You will find this resource list that is downloadable, so you can use it. Share it with people that you know. Share the web page with people that you know. This episode today will live on that page as well.

By all means, please don’t think that our resources is a comprehensive list. You won’t make it. The list didn’t magically know everything there is to know about black Americans, race, and how to have discussions on the topic. You can’t just check off the box and be like done. It’s meant to be a stepping stone and a guide for you, especially if you don’t know where to start. But we hope that this is kind of a way for you to kind of answer those questions on your own and begin that conversation if you don’t know how to.

But I wanted to start and wrap up with this. If anyone has any parting words. Dr. Ammons, I know you may have some key things that you want to take away with some people. So I may want to toss it over to you to kind of give a quick little wrap up.

[00:41:29] LA: One is that knowing your history will keep you from doing to repeat it. I’m sure that’s [inaudible 00:41:34] everybody’s heard. We prosper more together when we use different perspective and help to optimize results. The last thing is the power of resilience and persistence will never leave you wrong. Those are my last ones. Those are my three things that I think that to certainly should take away from this conversation. There are other things that you can live by and not just for African Americans but for humans, period. You got to know your history to make sure you don’t repeat it.

[00:42:04] SO: You can say that. John, what about you?

[00:42:09] JE: Just as a follow on and to further validate the terrific words we just heard, I would love for us all, no matter our background, no matter the color of our skin, to return back to a time of storytelling. We’ve all had experiences. Nothing drives understanding in the human brain better than storytelling. So I would love for us to continue to gather around the table as we’ve been forced to in 2020, as a result of the pandemic, and tell some stories. That will drive the understanding of the next generation and the generation after them. We are a people of storytelling, but I think we’ve lost that. So by talking about the stories of our lives and those who have come before us and the sacrifices they’ve made, it helps to drive this hope and sense of resiliency that enables us to deal with whatever’s going to be coming our way tomorrow.

[00:42:55] JS: I will speak directly to the businesses they’re trying to do this. Basically, understand that history’s value is context for the present, but it’s a caveat for the future. So never shy away if you’re a business or you have a leadership role for using business because I do believe that business is where a lot of this can change. Don’t use the business. Use it wisely with intention. Take a history. Commemorate it. Bring it there. Give it context. Understanding and acknowledging is both a responsibility and an opportunity. Be transformative, not performative.

[00:43:30] KS: Yeah, absolutely. So just two quick things, and one that I’ve mentioned before and I think we all have is don’t let the calendar be the only thing that drives our acknowledgement or awareness, right? John spoke about the seeds model, and distance bias is super clear. If the only time you tell your partner you love them is on Valentine’s Day, you’re missing something. If the only time you tell your children you care for them is on their birthday, you’re missing something. If the only time you’re having conversations about black history is Juneteenth or Black History Month, you’re missing something. So it can be a good reminder. But if it’s the only thing that’s driving, then there’s a miss there.

Then the second I think is encourage folks not to only focus on the beliefs. Pay attention to the behaviors as well. I think that’s the thing that we’re seeing from so many folks and their reaction is, yes, this is wonderful. What about those voting rights that Janet spoke about? What about the brutality that we’ve been discussing? What about some of these other things where we’re really asking for systemic changes, and we’re asking for more representation, and we’re asking for more senior leaders at the table? So having the day off is incredible if we do something with it. If not and it just becomes another day that I don’t have to work, then it’s in a lot of ways a failure.

[00:44:41] SO: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Ammons, John, Khalil, Janet. I could not have done this without you.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:44:51] CD: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producers are Matt Holodak, Danielle Kirshenblat, Shadé Olasimbo, and me, Cliff David. Original music is by Grant Subritsky, and logo design is by Catch Wear. We’ll see you next time.

[END]

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