This episode was originally recorded as a webinar with JBC Sr. Consultant Adrienne Lawrence, and Black Facts founders Dale A. Dowdie and Ken Granderson, for an enlightening one-hour conversation on Juneteenth through today. Discover key historical aspects of what’s also known as Emancipation Day and get a better look at the hurdles that have been instituted over the years to hinder true emancipation and a better idea of what you can do to make change.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Doug Foresta: Welcome to the Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. Of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. Before we get into today’s episode, Jennifer, I want to make sure that the audience knows that there is a new DEI Foundations cohort coming up. Is that correct?
Jennifer Brown: Yes. Thanks, Doug. I’m excited to announce our next cohort. We run this about four times a year. The next cohort is June 29th, and it lasts six weeks. It is a asynchronous and synchronous program, meaning… It took me awhile to understand what that meant.
Jennifer Brown: Asynchronous means that it is self-paced. We have prepared and made a big investment in uploading resources for you to absorb on your own time, in your own time, and your own pace. There is a synchronous element to the course, meaning that there are assignments and, yes, homework that is graded by our faculty. Then there is weekly calls on Fridays where everybody gets together to kind of unpack what we’ve been working on on our own. That’s the synchronous part, which means the live instructor part.
Jennifer Brown: It’s this wonderful blend. I think it’s a best practice in terms of attending to different learning styles. I would think about, if you want to start this cohort, maybe the summertime is a great time of year to make that investment in yourself and to spend that sort of deep-dive time into your own role, your own story, your own… perhaps starting to think about what kind of work you want to do, what kind of contribution you want to make to the DEI space.
Jennifer Brown: I mean, it’s called Foundations because it is meant to be a foundational program, and then we will be adding on and offering a level two and, eventually, a level three on top of this foundational program, which would be for people who are moving into having the responsibility for DEI in a given organization.
Jennifer Brown: The Foundations program, though, is something that I feel should be required. It’s kind of a prerequisite before folks progress unto the next conversation, which is much more, I think, about building a strategy. What are the best practices around strategic pillars, and measurements, and metrics, and focus areas for strategies? That is much more applied.
Jennifer Brown: I think this Foundations program is, like I said, that personal deep-dive, the investigation into our iceberg. What’s under our waterline? What do we hide or bring to the fore? What has shaped us in our lives?
Jennifer Brown: When I think about my storytelling and my journey with what’s under my waterline, I think about investigating being LGBTQ, for example, but then doing the workaround. It has formed and shaped so many attributes in me that I’m so proud of today and that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been challenged by the world, challenged around who I am and how I identify.
Jennifer Brown: I think it’s worthy for all of us to spend this time and give ourselves this gift to sit with our story, sit with your diversity dimensions, do that in a community, in a cohort that is also working on that where it’s a very, very safe and brave space, and then have that space also be held by our expert faculty who have been around the block when it comes to this stuff.
Jennifer Brown: I know that it just gets rave reviews, this program. We actually have a special discount code, Doug, for podcast listeners. If you want to know more about the program, go to jenniferbrownconsulting.com. You will see that it’s at the very, very top of the page. To learn more, you can read about the RLI and the kinds of learning objectives that we will be covering.
Jennifer Brown: There’s a registration link. Then there is a discount for podcast listeners. You only need to enter the code PODCAST, all capitals, PODCAST, to get 20% off of the program fee. Please consider joining us. We’d love to have you. I hope the timing works. Maybe it works beautifully because I hope for all of us, we get a little bit of a break this summer because that’s what summers are for, right, Doug?
Doug Foresta: That is true.
Jennifer Brown: Ideally, but we just work way too hard. Think about this as a treat to give yourself, an investment in your current and future inclusive leader self. Also, perhaps you will end up doing this work someday. This is a really critical piece to your toolkit. Go visit Jennifer Brown Consulting. Look at DEI Foundations. If you decide to enroll, use PODCAST for 20% off.
Dale Dowdie: Black history is not just for black people. It is for others to actually be aware that this actually occurred and recognize because when you recognize, then you can empathize. You know why George Floyd took off? Because all of a sudden, people couldn’t escape and say, “That didn’t really happen.”
Dale Dowdie: To this day, some still say, “Well, if only he hadn’t resisted, he’d still be here.” At the end of the day, if you want to help make change, then educate and inform yourself and those around you because that will help you empathize and become more inclusive because you’ll be aware of their plights and understand their struggle. Therefore, it ties into how your mentality is in how you think about people of color.
Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will to Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors, and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. Now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.
Doug Foresta: Hello and welcome back to the Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. The episode that you’re about to hear was originally recorded as a webinar with JBC Senior Consultant Adrienne Lawrence and Blackfacts founders, Dale Dowdie and Ken Granderson, for a conversation about Juneteenth through today.
Doug Foresta: Not only are you going to learn about key historical aspects of what’s also known as Emancipation Day, but you’ll also get a better look at the hurdles that have been instituted over the years to hinder true emancipation and a better idea of what you can do to make change. Now onto the episode.
Adrienne Lawrence: All right. Let’s go ahead and get started. My name is Adrienne Lawrence. I’m a principal consultant at Jennifer Brown Consulting. I’m going to be leading our conversation today on Juneteenth. We’re going to be talking about the history of the holiday in addition to talking about the legacy it has left behind and what change needs to happen now.
Adrienne Lawrence: We’re also very glad to be partnering on this project with Blackfacts. Here to give you a little understanding of Blackfacts and a little history about them, I’d like to welcome in Ken Granderson. He’s the co-founder and CTO of Blackfacts, as well Dale Dowdie. He’s also a co-founder and the CEO. Dale, Ken.
Ken Granderson: Hi. My name is Ken Granderson. As stated, I’m the co-founder and chief technology officer of Blackfacts. We started Blackfacts.com, the world’s first online black history encyclopedia, in 1997 as a passion project to help make the internet more welcoming as large numbers of black internet surfers started going online for the first time.
Ken Granderson: 20 years later, we converted into an innovative technology platform and business that delivers daily black history and current news from around the world to hundreds of thousands of websites, social media, and affiliate websites in text, picture, and video formats using our proprietary AI-enabled content engine named after the historic African library of Timbuktu.
Ken Granderson: I’ve actually been a software developer for close to 30 years and have been creating technologies to engage and bring communities of color online at a local and even a Caribbeans islands government level. I’m the technology evangelist side, and Dale is more the business side.
Dale Dowdie: Hello. My name is Dale Dowdie. As Ken has mentioned, I am the CEO, co-founder of Blackfacts.com. My background in brief is I was a hacker in high school and ended up working for NASA. I was the first high school student hired for NASA doing coding in predictive modeling, all that storm tracer stuff. We wrote the original code for tracking storms.
Dale Dowdie: Anyway, going forward with Blackfacts.com, we want to move it beyond positioning it from being the number one destination for black history and current news to actually delivering diversity content and demonstrate diversity and technology while putting communities of color in control of our narratives on a technology platform that we created, coded, control, and own.
Dale Dowdie: Our goal is to inspire our people with the achievements of black people throughout history, inform the globe by delivering original stories and original content to the masses, and engage our youth by giving a platform where they can learn and share about our history and tell their own stories because as we know, history seems to be disappearing. At least black history is disappearing from our school systems. We believe that we are presenting an opportunity to take that to another level.
Adrienne Lawrence: Excellent. Thank you so much, Dale and Ken. We really appreciate your partnership on this and also your work in elevating the message and getting the Blackfacts out there. As you had mentioned, it’s extremely important, particularly now, as we’ve seen just a lot of conversation about what kind of history should be discussed and the facts that should be out there.
Adrienne Lawrence: Thank you, both, again. We’re really excited to be having this conversation, Jennifer Brown Consulting partnering with Blackfacts, as we enliven the discussion about Juneteenth. As we have this conversation today, please feel free to submit questions. There’s a link in the Google chat, or in the chat right there that will lead you to Google, where you can submit a question. That’s something that we will talk about later in the session as we have a Q & A opportunity, so you can ask Ken and Dale more and also maybe explore some more enlightening aspects of Juneteenth.
Adrienne Lawrence: There have been some big revelations within the last 24 hours. Do not worry. We definitely have you covered. We’re very excited, once again, to have this conversation, so let’s go ahead and get started. I am going to go ahead and share my screen. I presume you can see it now. Fantastic. All right.
Adrienne Lawrence: While we’re here, it’s so important to truly understand that this is a conversation about history. This is something that is very important when we talk about what is really going on. Why are we here? We’re here because it’s not just the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth but also, Juneteenth is an important part of American history.
Adrienne Lawrence: This is about American backgrounds, cultures, experience, all of the things that occurred in the past, but they are very much a part of the present. These are the things we want to talk about right now and today. Also, as I mentioned, there is a site that’s ongoing right now to acknowledge and preserve history.
Adrienne Lawrence: What should be talked about? Who should be discussing things? This is important because we need to have these conversations. We need to understand what went on, who did what, in part because these are things we do not want to do again oftentimes.
Adrienne Lawrence: We also need to have a good understanding of the legacy of slavery because there are so many of us that are still impacted by it today. We also need to talk about meaningful change. What do we need to do to ensure that we’re living up to the promise that we’ve all been provided, that all men are created equal and hopefully, someday, women too.
Adrienne Lawrence: We need to have these conversations. Part of that is about acknowledging the path and understanding it. When we talk about Juneteenth, what we’re talking about is something. Just in the most basic sense, it’s short for June 19th. It’s the collaboration of those two words.
Adrienne Lawrence: It acknowledge and commemorates when the last enslaved black people in the Confederate states learned that they were free. This is something we’re going to explore a little bit more. We’re talking about the Confederate states. That’s the South.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, hey, Texas… That’s the first state where it became a holiday, Juneteenth, in 1979. I know right now, we’re talking about making it a federal holiday. Texas was on it in 1979 because Juneteenth is where… Or, Texas is where Juneteenth started.
Adrienne Lawrence: All of these things, they all come together as one. When we understand the history and the background of Juneteenth, that’s when we can grow from it and understand the material impact it’s had today. To do that, we’re going to talk about what made Juneteenth possible. That’s the Emancipation Proclamation. Let’s start talking about what led up to that point.
Adrienne Lawrence: We had Abraham Lincoln. I’m sure many of you are familiar with our 16th U. S. president. During the time of the mid 1800s, the nation was really on a collision course. It was North versus South. Northern Republican named Abe Lincoln… Well, he was just elected, and the Southern states were not happy about this because Lincoln opposed slavery.
Adrienne Lawrence: He did not want it to be expanded into western territories, but he was not an abolitionist. He wasn’t about freeing the slaves because he thought it was the right thing to do and that they were human people deserving of equality. No, that wasn’t Abraham Lincoln’s agenda.
Adrienne Lawrence: Rather, he wanted to change the game in terms of the North versus the South because there was a lot of power in the South when it came to, largely, slavery as it was something that was sustaining the entire United States. We’ll talk a little bit more about Lincoln’s principles as he really thought that the majority of the black population should leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America. That’s something that he tried to make a possibility.
Adrienne Lawrence: As you can imagine, the South did not want to see black people anywhere but as slaves. In 1860, 80% of the nation’s gross national product was tied to slavery. Naturally, hey, the South was not about to let black people go. They’re the purse of the nation. They are the reason that the nation was flourishing.
Adrienne Lawrence: When they had a Northerner governing, “Hey, this is what you have to do. We want this to go away,” it did not go well. The North wanted to keep the nation as one, but there were 11 southern states that they insisted on leaving the nations. What they did is they formed the Confederate States of America.
Adrienne Lawrence: Starting on February 8th, 1861, the secession trail began, seven states in the deep South first: Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina. These states… Their economy was heavily depended upon agriculture, particularly cotton. They needed the labor that black slaves could provide.
Adrienne Lawrence: About a month after those Confederate states formed, Lincoln took office. It was March 4th, 1861. Within a month, it was the Civil War. It kicked off April 12th, 1861, when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter. That was a Union fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
Adrienne Lawrence: Lincoln had a lot on his hands to start his administration. Of course, right after the Civil War started, four more slave states in the South… They joined the Confederacy: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina. Each of the 11 states issued Articles of Secession. At least four issued a Declaration of Cause because they wanted to explain the reasons that they were leaving the United States of America.
Adrienne Lawrence: Oftentimes, there is a little bit of a dispute on why they left. Fortunately, we have some of these Declarations of Cause, so we can see what were the reasons. This is breakdown here, as you can see, charts analyzing four of the Declarations of Cause. They can show you how the words were devoted to the issues raised by each state and their declaration.
Adrienne Lawrence: To show you the percentage of the whole, context really refers to kind of the procedural language, the preamble kind of things. You can see that slavery was a significant issue. States’ rights, Lincoln’s election… All of these issues played a role in why states in the South… They didn’t want to be a part of the United States anymore, and so we are at war.
Adrienne Lawrence: Then came September, 1862. Lincoln issued a preliminary decree. He said, “I am going to free the slaves unless you rebellious states return to the United States by January 1.” He gave them what, four months, to come back, to get right, essentially. The Confederate states… They scoffed at him.
Adrienne Lawrence: January 1st, 1863, Lincoln went ahead with it. He presented the Emancipation Proclamation. This document… It declared that all persons held as slaves within any states or designated part of the state… The people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States shall be then thenceforward and forever free.
Adrienne Lawrence: That’s some true legalese. As we know, Abe Lincoln… He was big on the law game. Well, the Emancipation Proclamation… It was something that was big and significant. A lot of people thought that this is pretty ridiculous. You are going too far, Abe.
Adrienne Lawrence: Even overseas, they thought that this was a little extreme, but when we really look at the Emancipation Proclamation today, it didn’t have that significant of a draw. It also left a lot of people wondering how this would play out. I can tell you that it was a lot of military leverage.
Adrienne Lawrence: Let’s talk about the three important things to note about this landmark moment in American history. The Emancipation Proclamation… It didn’t free all the slaves in the United States. There were at least four million black people held in bondage, but Lincoln’s Proclamation… It applied to only enslaved people in the Confederacy.
Adrienne Lawrence: It didn’t apply to the enslaved people in the border states that had remained loyal to the Union, so Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri. There are about 50 counties in the western area of Virginia, which now is known as West Virginia. Well, they stayed with the Union. They said, “Hey, we’re going to fight on your behalf so we can all be the United States.” They were able to keep their slaves.
Adrienne Lawrence: When it came to the Emancipation Proclamation, it only freed the slaves in those Confederate states. Interestingly enough, the secretary of state for Lincoln, William Seward or Seward… Well, he really kind of seemed to see the irony here. He said, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely ironic. It was not lost on Abe Lincoln. He knew that, hey, he could free the slaves in those states that were still working with the Union, but again, as we kind of noted before, Lincoln wasn’t looking necessarily to make a humanitarian move but a military move. He didn’t really want to agonize, or antagonize, excuse me, the slave states that were loyal to the Union by setting their slaves free. Those people stayed in bondage.
Adrienne Lawrence: The second important thing to remember about the Emancipation Proclamation, as I’ve been hinting at, is the fact that it was leveraged in the war. Again, it served strategic purposes. For example, for the Emancipation Proclamation, it helped prevent foreign countries from getting involved in the Civil War because Britain and France… They were already kind of courting the idea of supporting the Confederacy.
Adrienne Lawrence: Why? Because they wanted to expand their influence in the Western Hemisphere, but the thing is there were a lot of Europeans who were against slavery. Now that slavery is gone in those southern states, those southern states aren’t necessarily as wealthy anymore, so to speak, because they don’t have the forced labor. This really seems to discourage Britain and France from getting involved.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, the Emancipation Proclamation… What it did was it crippled the Confederation’s use of slaves to fight the war because slaves that were captured by the Union forces… They were freed to fight against the Confederates. Emancipation effectively transferred labor from the South to the North, weakening the Confederates while strengthening the Union armies. At the end of the war, some 180,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union army. That’s about 12% of the Union army were formerly enslaved black people.
Adrienne Lawrence: We also want to note, lastly, that, again, the Emancipation Proclamation… It didn’t grant equality, which kind of makes you wonder, what’s the point of being free? How free are you if you’re not deemed a whole person? Lincoln is often sainted as the great emancipator, but he was really far from being a savior because it’s important to remember that Lincoln emancipated the slaves to avoid southern states from establishing their independent slave republic. This was really about commerce, capitalism, and control, not so much humanity.
Adrienne Lawrence: Lincoln didn’t believe that black people deserved equality. In fact, he unequivocally stated, “I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” Lincoln was opposed to black people having the right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office, to intermarry with whites. What he did want was the benefit that came with freeing the slaves in the rebellion states. All said, the Emancipation Proclamation may have given black people their physical freedom in the South, but it didn’t give them the privileges of freed men.
Adrienne Lawrence: Now that the Emancipation Proclamation has been issued, let’s talk a little bit about how we got to Juneteenth. The Civil War… It’s raging on, and the southern rebellion collapses. News of the Emancipation arrived at different times to various places in the South. In Texas, slavery had continued with little disruption, really. The Lone Star State was viewed as somewhat of a safe haven for slavery as many enslavers have relocated there with their slaves. Also, with the geographic distance from the North, it really meant that, hey, it could take longer to get the Union troops out there and also to get moved.
Adrienne Lawrence: On April 9th, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered. That was out in Virginia. Two months later is when news got to Texas. That was June 19th, 1865. U. S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil, and he read General Order No. 3. “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Adrienne Lawrence: It was a very powerful thing, freedom to the slave. People were excited. They celebrated. Of course, those who knew celebrated because emancipation wasn’t immediate. Some of the enslavers… They either withheld the information from their slaves until the end of harvest season, or maybe they didn’t even necessarily tell their slaves.
Adrienne Lawrence: Even so, the newly freed black people, those who knew… They celebrated. Although this event in June 1867, it’s popularly as the end of slavery, those who were enslaved in the Union border states… They weren’t necessarily free until that 13th Amendment was passed. That’s in December 1965.
Adrienne Lawrence: The following year, June 19th, 1866, there were celebrations again. They were held to commemorate that day in Galveston, Texas, when that declaration was read. They initially called that day of celebration Jubilee Day. That’s the day we now know to be Juneteenth.
Adrienne Lawrence: It’s also important to talk about the aftermath because that’s how we get a better understanding of where we are today and how we got there. We have to realize that, again, black people were not considered to be equal. Even though we had the freedom, we didn’t have the opportunity or the protection.
Adrienne Lawrence: Andrew Johnson became our 17th U. S. president. He was a Tennessee senator. He was a southern boy, and he was very big on black oppression. Black people had no political protection, no voting rights, no legal protection. The police wouldn’t protect. The police were actually kind of created to track down runaway slaves.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, Louisiana passed a law that said, “Blacks have no citizenship here.” What happens then when, essentially, a lot of land has been taken from the white enslavers and their core property has been taken, the black slaves? Also, these white people in the South… They weren’t punished for being traders. Andrew Johnson did not want to punish his colleagues, his friends, his family members.
Adrienne Lawrence: What happened is we had white southerners unleashing a reign of terror, an anti-black violence. There were reports of black women being scalped, ears being torn off. People were murdered, shot, raped, beaten. White southerners were exacting their vengeance on black people, and there was no protection whatsoever. The thought is if I can’t enslave you, I still can dominate you. I can oppress you.
Adrienne Lawrence: Enslavers started to be known by another name. The black codes came to pass, labor contracts, employment mandates and restrictions. There were laws out there saying that all blacks had to sign a new contract of employment at the beginning of the year. Otherwise, you’re a vagrant, and you can end up being enslaved again.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, you could only have a certain level of employment. You could only serve, maybe toil in the fields. Also, with black codes, you couldn’t go certain places, be out at certain times. The restrictions were oppressive, and they eventually rolled into what we now know to be Jim Crow.
Adrienne Lawrence: It also became very much a carceral state, as in the, quote, unquote, “justice system” would enslave black people by putting them in prison. Maybe they thought that you looked at a white woman the wrong way or that you were too uppity, so to speak. You’d end up in handcuffs, in prison, working years without pay. You were enslaved once again.
Adrienne Lawrence: Children who were not reunited with their parents after the Civil War… They were put in apprenticeship for white people. Essentially, they just became slaves again. Black people had no property rights, no voting rights. Essentially, what is the point of being free if you can’t necessarily be an equal?
Adrienne Lawrence: Again, as I mentioned, the black codes… They rolled into Jim Crow. We know what segregation looks like. It was not long ago. We saw the civil rights movement also with prison privatization, the drug wars. The oppression has been layered in terms of limitation.
Adrienne Lawrence: While there has been change, it has been very gradual. What change has been accomplished, unfortunately, now it is being essentially rolled back in a more polite way, so people aren’t necessarily coming out in their hoods as much anymore as they are today, engaging in what is often called as new racism.
Adrienne Lawrence: The elements of new racism involves a denial of history, the history of racial oppression. It likes to reinforce the notions of meritocracy, this thought that everybody can pull themselves up from their bootstraps, that slavery happened so long ago. Let’s ignore the fact that you have no property rights, that you have no generational wealth, that people are continually oppressed, restricted from having certain jobs, have no sense… Voting rights continue to be taken away.
Adrienne Lawrence: All of these things where the history, the legacy is ignored. We’re seeing it today play out in the thought that you can’t teach certain things in schools. We don’t want to upset children by talking about what happened on this land.
Adrienne Lawrence: Another element of the new racism era… What it does is it trades the biological racism. That’s that notion that, oh, well, white people are superior to black people just by nature, that biological thought. As we now know, that is far from true, that everyone is completely equal. There is nothing different in terms of the races in biology.
Adrienne Lawrence: What it trades that in for is attacks on black people and black culture. There’s still that underlying theme or thought of, hey, you’re lazy, or you’re inherently criminal, or you’re worth less than others are. We just saw this recently in a very public way with the NFL as it was engaging in race-norming when it came to players who are in the concussion settlement program where the league was having these players be assessed by doctors.
Adrienne Lawrence: The thought is that if you’re showing a cognitive decline and you’re black, well, we’re going to lower your number because it’s the thought that black people have a lower cognition anyways. If I come in at a 15 and a white person comes in at a 15, maybe they would have said, “Oh, well, you didn’t really suffer that much, Adrienne,” because black people only started at 17 where, as white people generally, the average cognition is around a 30.
Adrienne Lawrence: The NFL recently just said they stopped doing that. Yet, they defended that argument in court. There are so many forms of belief structures and mental oppression that goes on in this thought that black people are different, and there’s something that is subordinate. We see those play out very subtly or, as we saw with the league recently, it can also be very overt.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, that third notion, these covert attacks on civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in the private sector… We’re seeing that play out in various ways as well with legislature and the opportunities as we’ve seen the voting laws come through that make it more difficult for people to vote in ways that primarily impact people of color, predominantly black people.
Adrienne Lawrence: We also have to look at the legacy of what today looks like. This is white representation in these categories: 10 richest Americans, all white, percentage of U. S. governors, top military advisors, presidents and VPs, federal judges, college professors, network executives for film, so on and so forth.
Adrienne Lawrence: When you have this level of white representation, that means that you’re not hearing as many voices. The black voice isn’t necessarily being heard. The Asian voice isn’t necessarily being heard. When you have diversity and inclusion and you actually incorporate and uplift people’s voices, you don’t have this level of dominance.
Adrienne Lawrence: We also have to look at the wealth gap. Black people suffer the most. You see the per capita income of black versus white Americans, the household wealth of black versus white Americans. It’s not a matter of unwillingness to work hard. These are forms of oppression that are playing out, generational wealth that has built up. There are a lot of things going on that have come historically that create and contribute to things like the wealth gap.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, again, as I mentioned, leadership. These are representatives, black members of Congress. Who is controlling the narrative of our country and where it goes in terms of the laws that are passed, the interests that are discussed? Incarceration rates… As many of you know, black people are predominately incarcerated at higher levels. No race is more criminal than the other.
Adrienne Lawrence: You have to ask yourself why. The system, as we know it, is, unfortunately, operating as it initially was intended to, and we have to confront those things if we’re going to change them. We also have to look at the unemployment rate because, again, it’s not a matter of unwillingness to work.
Adrienne Lawrence: In fact, black women tend to have the most jobs of anyone. Also, black women, for any demographic, are the highest educated. It’s about what invisible structures, what barriers are in place that are keeping people from being able to have the same opportunities.
Adrienne Lawrence: We have to ask ourself, where is the meaningful change? As I mentioned, there’s been change just yesterday. The Senate approved the bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. That seems significant, right? We’ve always wanted it to be a federal holiday. It’s a holiday in Texas, a state holiday. Some other states also recognize it as a state holiday, New York, but this is the first time the federal government would be willing to make it a federal holiday.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, it cleared so quickly through the Senate. This bill is huge. Let’s kind of talk about the real issues here. This is a performative effort. Some journalists and some voices on Twitter… Imagine making Juneteenth a federal holiday when laws are being enacted all over the country that will prevent people from being taught why it’s a holiday. Exactly.
Adrienne Lawrence: We’re in a time right now where people are attacking critical race theory, even though it isn’t taught in grade school, or people are passing laws to keep kids from talking about, hey, this is the history of our nation. This is what slavery really looked like.
Adrienne Lawrence: [inaudible 00:36:41]. MLK Day has been a federal holiday my entire life. In my lifetime, I’ve seen Voting Rights Act gutted, a Fascist coup attempt and concerted efforts to undo civil rights movements by the same individuals who commemorate the holiday each year and who just voted to do the same with Juneteenth.
Adrienne Lawrence: Bishop Talbert Swan, NCAA president… The Senate unanimously passed Juneteenth as a holiday. They won’t pass anti-lynching bills, reparations, police reform, voting rights legislations. We’re tired of symbolism and no substance. Instead of a day off, pay reparations. Stop lynching us and stop violating our rights. That would be substantive change, not a performative act.
Adrienne Lawrence: Lastly, gaslighting is making Juneteenth a federal holiday while banning critical race theory in schools, destabilizing COVID mutual aid efforts, refusing to defund and abolish police, and blocking reparations legislation. Go play in someone else’s face, America.
Adrienne Lawrence: This is the tone that I have seen across social media and in talking to colleagues, largely from the black community, that this is performative because as we see a lot of bills come down that are preventing black people from voting, or creating these hurdles, or also, not allowing the conversation to be had about the history of our nations. They’re impairing our ability to grow as a nation. Those are substantive changes we need.
Adrienne Lawrence: We need people to acknowledge and own history. We need voting rights to be bolstered. Everyone is supposed to be equal, so shouldn’t they have a voice? Reparations… That’s an important conversation as legislation is not that old that said, “We are going to make sure that white people get property rights, and black people cannot have them.”
Adrienne Lawrence: The federal government made an effort out of that. People are benefiting from it today whereas black people continue to suffer. Police, systemic reform, investing in countering institutional racism, eviction and housing rights… The vast majority of this eviction crisis is about to come down. That’s going to impact black people.
Adrienne Lawrence: Again, there are so many issues: healthcare, black maternal mortality rate. That’s where we should direct the change. That’s where we should see some movement, but what we’re left with is the thought that Juneteenth will be a holiday. While that is a great thing and there is a lot to celebrate about Juneteenth, there would be so much more to celebrate if there is actual change.
Adrienne Lawrence: Thank you for having this conversation with us. Now I am going to welcome Ken and Dale to join us again as we have our Q & A session. Fabulous. Dale, Ken… Ken, you need to unmute your mic. Fantastic. Thank you. All right. First up, let’s go ahead, and let me talk out the question here. What are your thoughts on the potential commodification of Juneteenth as we’ve recently seen this with the LGBTQ Pride Month? Do you think that this will potentially be a problem?
Ken Granderson: I would say absolutely. In America, there is nothing that will not be commodified. You can bank on that as you can bank on the sun coming up. I would not look at that one way or the other in terms of… Just like the sun’s going to come up, whether you’re ready for it or not, that’s in the realm of things we cannot change.
Ken Granderson: I’ve watched since maybe around 17 how different things, materialism and commercialism, has taken over everything. I think what we can do is make sure that we do authentic things, and we lift up the authentic things and try our best not to get pulled into the commercialization.
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely. Dale?
Dale Dowdie: Absolutely agree with Ken. I think that it also presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs of color to take advantage of that possibility of that commoditization. I mean, Christmas is commoditized. It used to be my favorite holiday when I was a child. Now it’s just, how much am I spending on gifts? That is something we cannot change, but we can acknowledge and recognize that this is significant despite the issues that are still ongoing in our country to constrain people of color from advancement and full equality.
Dale Dowdie: We can also view that as an opportunity for us to further the message, and really further educate people, and use that as a tool to help grow our own economies, and not always depend upon others to be successful. If this is going to be our holiday, let us as our people try to take advantage of it before Starbucks starts making Juneteenth cups and all this other Juneteenth flavor. They’re making a ton of money from that.
Dale Dowdie: It’s something to think about as people of color. How can we spend our dollars as part of that commoditization and keep it within the community to help us grow and advance? Because we can’t stop it, so we can just take advantage of it.
Adrienne Lawrence: I think that’s a really good point. Also, if there are people who are non-black out there who want to contribute and participate, do some research in figuring out, who am I supporting? What does their board look like? What does their efforts look like? Because when you find yourself supporting an organization, it may not necessarily also be supporting the cause itself. It may just be doing these performative antics to get your money.
Adrienne Lawrence: Even just doing the research, that’s part of allyship and making sure that what you’re investing in is actually uplifting those who are marginalized. That goes a long way. Also, I’d love to ask the question, how can we all work together to break down structural racism and break the white supremacy cycle? It’s a big question.
Dale Dowdie: Let me take that. There’s a discussion that we had recently. One of the conclusions that came out, this is an internal discussion, was that being informed is part of being inclusive. How do we break this down? How do we break down these barriers is to inform our communities.
Dale Dowdie: If you are an organization that believes that we need to break down these barriers and if you are an individual that believes it’s important, then as Adrienne has said, you need to be informed. As an organization, if you are sharing information about your people of color, LBGT, and Asian, throughout the organization, not just… Black history is not just for black people. It is for others to actually be aware that this actually occurred and recognize because when you recognize, then you can empathize.
Dale Dowdie: Do you know why George Floyd took off? Because all of a sudden, people couldn’t escape and say, “That didn’t really happen.” To this day, some still say, “Well, if only he hadn’t resisted, he’d still be here.” At the end of the day, if you want to help make change, then educate and inform yourself and those around you because that will help you empathize and become more inclusive because you’ll be aware of their plights and understand their struggle. Therefore, it ties into how your mentality is and how you think about people of color.
Ken Granderson: I’d like to add to that. I believe that we all have opportunities to be allies. I often say, I happen to be an American-born, middle-class, fully-abled, cisgendered, heterosexual male. Those are all areas where I enjoy the privilege of not having to ever think about things that are existential concerns for many other people every day.
Ken Granderson: For some reason or another, I realized some of those things early on. When I was in college, sometimes I’d be the one who would check my boys. Say, “Hey, bro, that’s not cool,” because they wouldn’t listen if a woman said it, or they wouldn’t respect it if a gay person said it.
Ken Granderson: Allies are critical with the not as evolved people in our families, in our workplaces to just interrupt. You don’t necessarily need to confront. Sometimes it’s just, you need to interrupt. Excuse me. I don’t understand. Can you explain that, please? I believe that it’s possible to break up white supremacy. It starts from interrupting it and not letting it just get away because someone, I’m sure, will know the person who said for evil to triumph.
Dale Dowdie: Just takes good people not to do anything.
Adrienne Lawrence: That’s very, very true. We see it every day. As you see, celebrities get called out for being involved in bullying and whatnot. There were plenty of other people who could’ve said something and interrupted that, but they didn’t. When we talk about white supremacy, one thing we can definitely do is educate ourselves because the thing is white supremacy is about socialization.
Adrienne Lawrence: I’m not devoid of it. No one is devoid it. They’re, yes, white people generally benefit the most. The more white characteristics, or traits, or opportunities you have that are aligned with that, you stand to benefit in some way. You don’t see your benefit. You don’t see your privilege until you learn about it.
Adrienne Lawrence: When we educate ourselves and we figure out, “Hey, oh, this is why I think this is beautiful, or this is why I think that it should be this way,” that’s when you have that eye-opening moment. You’re like, “Oh my goodness,” and also, learning about other cultures and the fact that this isn’t the only way it’s done. Rather, we’ve been socialized to think that this is the right way, that this is what professionalism needs. These things are byproducts of white supremacy. They bolster it.
Adrienne Lawrence: The thing is you have to confront it. You got to figure out what it is. What are these things that are just existing around me that I don’t realize that they’re there because they bolster the system? That’s so incredibly important, and that’s about educating yourself.
Adrienne Lawrence: In addition to, definitely, when you figure out what it is, use your voice. Speak up because, hey, people need change. It’s incredibly important to get there. We’ll definitely be providing you with resources. We’re going to go ahead and send you a follow-up email. Anybody who registered for this, you’re going to get a follow-up email with links to some incredible resources.
Adrienne Lawrence: You can have the opportunity to find out a little bit more. There are also super easy ways of doing that. For example, on your iPhone, who are you following on Instagram, on Twitter, TikTok? What voices are you listening to? Those are easy ways to kind of allow yourself to learn and to explore more. You can even watch, hey, different documentaries on Netflix.
Adrienne Lawrence: The options are around you. It’s about de-centering yourself and making the conscious effort to learn about the world around you so you can better understand how it impacts people, primarily those who may not look like you. The next question, how can we help drive awareness to Juneteenth and what it means?
Dale Dowdie: That goes back to the statement that we made just a moment ago, which is to educate yourself. At the end of the day, one of the missions of Blackfacts.com is to provide education about significant historical events as it relates to people of color. That goes to any person of color and any culture, in fact. It’s really about learning something and then being able to share what you’ve learned with others around you because if knowledge is kept to yourself, then the only person that knows about it is you.
Dale Dowdie: At the end of the day, I will tell you one of our interesting efforts was to create consumable videos about black history and significant figures in history. By consumable, I mean, everyone’s got their smartphone. Their attention span is about this long. We try to deliver black history in bite-size chunks of one to five minutes long, so you don’t have to watch an entire documentary, but you can begin to understand the plight and the wonder of black history and black culture in a way that, on your smartphone, you can actually get some knowledge and then be able to share that.
Dale Dowdie: Juneteenth as a holiday, we have a four-minute video that tells the history of Juneteenth, but it means nothing if only the people on this program watch that video and say, “That’s great.” If you watch that and say, “That was informative. Let me share that with my friends. Let me just repost it on social media,” now you’re expanding your circle and expanding the awareness and knowledge that’s out there. That’s how you really make a difference.
Dale Dowdie: Social media has empowered the individual. Each one of you as an individual has a network of between 500 to 50,000 people that you’re connected to directly. What messaging are you sharing with them? If you’re only sharing cat photos, there’s nothing wrong with that. I have a cat. If you are on this program, if you took the time out of your day today to say, “I think Juneteenth is important. I think the history of what’s happening to people of color is important,” then you should consciously think about, well, what am I going to share to my network and share some of those resources that she’s going to be posting and sharing with everyone because that’s how you make a difference, by spreading the word and spreading knowledge.
Ken Granderson: Exactly. What I’d like to add to that, when we learn about things that happened a long time ago, it’s very easy to just think of them as still being in the past. When you see some of these resources, I would encourage everyone to do the thought experiment of asking yourself how… Let’s say, something like redlining. How do decades and decades of redlining impact a family or a community?
Ken Granderson: Imagine if that was your grandfather, great-grandfather who couldn’t get a home. How would your life be? Dale and I… We view ourselves as very fortunate. I had a grandfather who… He worked in a subway token booth as his main job, but here in Brooklyn, he was able to buy real estate in certain areas. He bought a home three houses down from where I am in the 1940s that my mother grew up in, and my cousin lives there today.
Ken Granderson: That kind of stability, whether it’s home ownership and things like that, has transformative impact and ripples out. On the other direction, the overly aggressive policing. Think of the impact of what would happen if your father, uncle, whoever was incarcerated for selling the same cannabis that everyone just is in love with today and was gone or came back and couldn’t get a job because they’re a convict.
Ken Granderson: These kinds of things have ripple effects and butterfly effects that are just hard to fathom unless you kind of look at the things that happen, and sort of sit back, and ask yourself, writ large, how is this impacting people? If you do that, a lot of things that may not make that much sense will make a whole lot more sense.
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely. I think the mission is to educate people so that you learn more about history and the past because it’s easy, and it’s comfortable to sit there and kind of put the muzzles on the ears and pretend it didn’t happen, and that it’s a meritocracy. Everybody has the same opportunity, and they have the same opportunities. It’s a matter of individual failure as opposed to the fact that there are a lot of invisible structures and hurdles that prevent people. They only target certain people.
Adrienne Lawrence: The thing is I’m saying that as an individual with three advanced degrees and also an attorney. There’s a lot I’ve accomplished, but I know I probably would’ve accomplished far more if there weren’t structural institutional racism or all of the stressors that I’ve had to endure over my life because I am not seen as a whole person in this world.
Adrienne Lawrence: When other people want to make change and they want to invest, what I tell them is educate yourself. Read the book. Figure out what the truth is so that you can see everything with clear eyes. The next question here, can you please further explain… I’m guessing it’s more of your thoughts on reparation.
Dale Dowdie: Reparations is kind of a sensitive subject. I say that even within black community, there are discussions around whether or not reparations make sense. How do you quantify the value of lost generational wealth? At the end of the day, does it become just an extended handout, or do we try to figure out, how do we improve urban and black communities today? Instead of handing things out, how do we institute programs that are targeting our communities and empowering our youth rather than saying, “Here’s a check for $50.” As soon as you spend it, it’s gone or whatever else.
Dale Dowdie: I’m not sure. I was born in Jamaica. As a Caribbean who then came to America and became an American citizen, my family had its own struggles to be successful, but they saw America as an opportunity. They kept our family together and grew wealth, generational wealth, by all living together in one house when they first came over here, and then slowly getting another house, and building up.
Dale Dowdie: We viewed things from the perspective as nothing should keep you back, and yet, as I went to college, I started experiencing my own direct racism that I didn’t understand as a child because I had parents who struggled to try to give me the best that they could. Now I’m independent.
Dale Dowdie: My first day in Boston, I was arrested. I had handcuffs because I crossed the bridge. It wasn’t until they saw my ID, after they’d already put me in the car, that I was a Boston University student that they were like, “Oh, oh. This is a student. This is not some guy trying to break into cars.”
Dale Dowdie: I feel like for me personally, I would much rather, if there are funds put aside, that those funds are put towards improving the condition of our communities today, giving us access to broadband, making more opportunities for scholarships, targeting, specifically, people of color. I mean, all of a sudden, affirmative action is a bad word.
Dale Dowdie: At the end of the day, if it were me, handing out a bunch of checks to people that you have to determine whether they were descendants of slaves and where they came, that’s a big effort. Putting funds and programs in place that are not welfare handouts but are actually improving programs, getting prisoners out of jail who were put away for having a bag of weed that’s now legal but they are still in jail, and then clearing their records so they can actually get a job… Things like that, I believe, are better reparations to build on the black family and open up doors and opportunities for ourselves than just handing out a check.
Ken Granderson: I know. In the interest of time and because I don’t try to… Sometimes I think too far in advance. I think I don’t have any clear idea of what it should look like or whatever, but I do believe that having a conversation is the right thing to do. We need to do it because it’s the right thing to do if we want to be the country we say we are.
Adrienne Lawrence: It’s important to truly look at the past because it really wasn’t that long ago. My parents were born in black hospitals. The fact is that, also, it’s important to really do your research because reparations have been given to every group that isn’t subject to genocide. It’s in everyone.
Adrienne Lawrence: The Japanese got it for the internment camps. We saw the Jews get reparations. Every group has gotten reparations except for black Americans. That was after 250-plus years of toil, of slavery and enslavement of building a nation and to continue to be subject to oppression where you cannot walk around as a student on your own campus without being slapped in handcuffs and the psychological trauma, the stress that adds to that.
Adrienne Lawrence: The thought is I want children someday. Yet, I want multiples. Why? Because I’m afraid. Because of the high black maternal mortality rate, so I feel it’s only safe for me to go to the hospital once as a pregnant woman. It’s how much this impacts our lives in every single way.
Adrienne Lawrence: We need the change. We need that investment and change. Whether it’s calling your congressman and pushing for voting rights bills to change, there to actually be some kind of investigation and push on the black maternal mortality rate, for some kind of criminal justice reform efforts, the fact that we now have cannabis legalized in so many places. Yet, there are so many black people who-
Dale Dowdie: Still in prison.
Adrienne Lawrence: Can’t get jobs, as mentioned, yes, because the system has locked people up. There are so many things, but it’s so important that you educate yourself first and then use your voice to make the change just fair. We only have a few minutes left. I wanted Ken and Dale to talk a little bit about Blackfacts in terms of where people can find more information, and what you all are looking to do next, and how the individuals here participating on this call can be of help.
Dale Dowdie: Our website is Blackfacts.com. We discover, share, and create black history. We would love for people who are participating in this conference to go to the site, to join Blackfacts nation, blackfacts.com/join. If you want to see a library, we have over 250 black history videos and counting. Go to Blackfacts.com/videos.
Dale Dowdie: We really celebrate black culture and black history in a unique way that can be found nowhere else in the world. If you believe that black people need to be empowered to control our own narrative for a change, if you believe that black history, and black culture, and diverse culture… We have an entire video library of Afro-Latino trailblazers. That is important. Then go to Blackfacts.com/support.
Dale Dowdie: We want people to actually understand what our mission is and help us to grow our mission because we are looking to expand. We’re doing an HBC youth showcase where we celebrate every single HBC youth on Blackfacts.com and cross reference all the historical references about them.
Dale Dowdie: We’re doing an entire outreach on voter registration. We have a whole library. We haven’t made this live yet, but we have a whole library of all the voting locations for every single state because as you see, they’re restricting voting. We need to make sure people are aware of how and where to go.
Dale Dowdie: We have a celebration on social justice that’s tied to George Floyd’s anniversary, but we haven’t finished putting it together. We have this thing called Say Their Name where we are not celebrating but acknowledging all of the crime against black youth by police, and what their stories were, and how that impact you.
Dale Dowdie: That site is going to be up by the end of the month where you can come and actually say the name of George Floyd and every other person of color that has suffered and been arrested or killed by police officers as part of this entire social justice movement and awareness campaign that we’re trying to roll out.
Dale Dowdie: We’re saying if these are things that you and your organization believe in, that you’re serious, I mean, serious about diversity and about inclusion, then, as we said, education is a part of inclusion. Be educated, and share that knowledge. Share that knowledge within your organization.
Dale Dowdie: We have widgets that allow you to plug in black history. It shows up on your website every single day. We offer all of those products and services. We hope that participants on this program take the time to just explore. The funniest thing about Blackfacts is that although it’s been up and running since 1997, we have found… It’s number one in the search engines.
Dale Dowdie: What we found was interesting, is we’re one of the stickiest websites on the internet. By stickiness, I mean, the average visitor on our website spends 30 seconds on a site that they’ve never been to, 90 seconds on a site that they’ve been to. Visitors to Blackfacts spend four minutes and 20 seconds on average because they start clicking one thing, and they discover, I didn’t know that, because when you explore, it actually takes you not only to the fact that you were interested in but related content and historical reference around that. That’s something that we hope that people continue to participate in and support what we’re trying to build for a better future for uplifting our release.
Ken Granderson: Five quick things, when you go to the homepage, there’s a signup for the newsletter. Join the Blackfacts newsletter. About once a quarter, you’ll get a thing that talks about all the stuff we’re doing, the new video things. We won’t spam you. If you want spam, then join. If you join Blackfacts, and you’ll get our daily minimum recommended dose of black history, our Black Fact-of-the-day by email.
Ken Granderson: Once you see what we’re doing, if you have ideas, let us know. The Say Their Names, it’s going to be an interactive digital memorial to folks who have been dying while black. My cousin who lives down the street gave me that idea several months ago, and we built it. We want ideas. Especially if you have young people who are interested in technology, share this with them because everything there is conceived, coded, created, and owned by black technologists, us.
Adrienne Lawrence: Excellent. Thank you so much, Ken and Dale. Thank you, all, for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed this conversation, that you learned a lot, and also that you’re inspired. We will be touch in the next few days with a nice amount of resources so you can continue your journey in learning about Juneteenth as well as black culture and black history, that is American history. Thank you again, and have a wonderful day.
Jennifer Brown: Hi. This is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at Jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Doug Foresta: You’ve been listening to the Will to Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit Jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening. We’ll be back next time with a new episode.
- Accessing our Infinite Power: Change Agency and Abundance with “In Your Power” author Dr. Sharon Melnick
- NASA’s DEI Journey with OD Specialist Diane Cain and JBC’s Adrienne Lawrence
- Doing the Work and Doing it Right: Deconstructing DEI with Author, Speaker and Consultant Lily Zheng
- Building the Damn Thing: Takeover Episode featuring VC and Author Kathryn Finney interviewed by WatchHerWork Founder, Denise Hamilton
- Through Thick and Thin: Employers Supporting Employees Through Health Crises with Cancer Channel Author Sarah McDonald