Monday marks the celebration of juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Black people at the end of the Civil War. As we head into the celebrations, NationSwell reached out to some of the leaders in our community to ask how fellow leaders can join them in their efforts to advance racial equity and justice for Black people.
Here are some of the ideas, actions, and resources they’ve shared with us.
NationSwell: As we celebrate Juneteenth, what is one action that business, philanthropic, and societal leaders can take to meet this moment in racial equity and justice?
Thea Gay, NationSwell Fellow + Youth Activist: Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it best in her TedTalk about the danger of a single story, warning that it “creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”.
For far too long, Black stories have been manipulated, mishandled, and in many cases completely erased to appease White Supremacy. As a result, widespread Black representation created without the input of Black people oftentimes reflects racist caricatures of our culture and demeans the rich diversity of our community — in turn, putting forth a one-dimensional idea of who we are into the world.
This Juneteenth, I encourage everyone to take some time to immerse themselves in Black History by supporting Black authors and creatives helping to shift the narratives about our stories and who gets to tell them.
Quardean Lewis-Allen, Founder + Executive Director, Youth Design Center: It is always a great time to support initiatives that address systemic inequalities, such as education and economic mobility. But particularly at a time when philanthropy is contracting, we need to lean into local economies and amplifying the infrastructure for self-sufficiency. Place-based investment in communities can help bridge the opportunity gap and empower individuals to thrive.
Carmita Semaan, Founder + CEO, Surge Institute: This may seem overly simplistic, but my advice to leaders and friends when asked this question is to be intentional, but start small. Take one small action to educate yourself, connect with someone whose perspective and lived experience differs from yours, and allow that education or interaction to lead to another action that may positively impact those you lead. Many leaders fail to act or meet the moment in racial equity and justice because they are both afraid to say or do the wrong thing and feel that any action taken must be grandiose to make an impact.
Here’s a bit of inside information: Most grandiose acts done without education or proximity fall flat and are received as performative and lazy by those you are most often seeking to impact. Take the time to invest in your own education, growth, and healing and I promise it will impact the way you see others, the way you see yourself, and ultimately the way you lead.
NationSwell: What’s one idea for advancing racial equity and justice that more leaders should know about — and where can they go to find out more?
Gay: One approach to advancing racial equity and justice that I think people know of — but don’t actively integrate into their everyday lives — is practicing intersectionality. Not only is it a framework to understand social theory but a lens that can be used to think deeply about our micro and macro interactions. Being aware that everyone has a distinct lived experiences shaped by oppression and privilege is key to understanding the society’s impact on different communities.
As part of your Juneteenth celebration, get curious about your knowledge of Black history and try to go deeper or take part/listen to intersectional conversations that expand your understanding of the Black experience. And most importantly never stop seeking to understand the gaps between what Black stories are being told, how, and by who. While also considering whose stories are then missing, the impact of that exclusion, and the need to highlight the intersectionality of Black identities.
Lewis-Allen: I love the work of BlackSpace, a Black urbanist collective that collaborates with Black organizers and thinkers to co-create urbanism-themed experiences. These bespoke experiences unite Black urbanists across disciplines to share new ways of to center Blackness in architecture, design, and urban planning. In that regard, they developed the BlackSpace Manifesto to help co-creators engaged in developing projects with Black communities do so in a purposeful, non-extractive way. I reference it often as a central part of our organization’s community revitalization work.
Semaan: There are so many so I’m going to cheat and provide a few. If you’re looking for an equity assessment, customized framework and work-plan for your organization as you seek to advance equity work within your organization, I absolutely love the work Rhonda Brousard is doing at Beloved Community.
If you’re interested in empowering the next generation of leaders to build an anti-racist economy by placing diverse youth in high growth careers, check out LeadersUp under the leadership of the brilliant Jeffery Wallace.
And finally, if you want to support efforts to educate, amplify, and elevate the next generation of leaders of color working to transform systems for students, families and communities, please check out my organization Surge Institute and consider ways to join our community or support us in any way that feels comfortable for you.
In celebration of Black lives and justice for Black communities, NationSwell asked its leaders to share some resources to support and celebrate BIPOC people. Here are just a few they’ve shared.
The Opportunity Network’s Anti-Racism Resources and Tools
The Opportunity Network is committed to its Active Core Value to Center Social and Racial Equity Relentlessly through our pedagogical practices, engagement activities, and programming. The organization recognizes our country’s long history of structural oppression and deeply rooted racism and brutality, and have compiled the below anti-racism resources for our students, families, and fellow educators. Learn more here.
The Power of Truth and Reconciliation Processes
How can a country with a history steeped in racism and violence ever hope to redress its sins and create a more safe and equitable social landscape? What will it take for America to heal? For some, the answer lies in truth and reconciliation — the process by which persistent inequalities are addressed through careful fact-gathering and supervised dialogues that seek to establish an objective version of historical events. Proponents of truth and reconciliation processes believe that confronting and reckoning with the past is necessary in order for successful transitions from conflict and resentment to peace and connectedness to occur. Learn more here.
Black History, Black Futures
In this NationSwell Mainstage, you’ll learn from cross-sector leaders in environmental, social, and place-based justice who are advancing progress in meaningful, measurable ways. Anchored in their accomplishments and expertise, they discussed the tangible actions we can take and investments we can make to ensure an equitable and just Black Future. Watch to learn how you can build a better Black future — one where Black excellence is celebrated, Black innovation is supported, Black opportunity is accelerated, and Black lives flourish and thrive.