Coalition Seeks To Protect The Respect of Juneteenth

In response to the backlash of corporations, such as Walmart and Dollar Tree, creating “Juneteenth” branded products, Chicago Juneteenth organizers are putting out a call to action to Black community members, legal experts, and corporate leaders to contribute to efforts to safeguard Juneteenth. The Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition (CJPC) is planning to host a roundtable discussion with Black leaders involved in corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts in July and the coalition will be intentionally collecting ideas from Black residents about how to protect Juneteenth for future generations.

Last year, the city of Chicago historically agreed to designate Juneteenth as a paid holiday. The local campaign to officially recognize Juneteenth was organized and forwarded by the Black Remembrance Project, Black Culture Week, and the office of Alderwoman Maria Hadden. The Black Remembrance Project initially launched its Juneteenth campaign in June 2019, as a way to honor the 400th year anniversary of Black American Descendants of Slavery. Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward embraced the campaign and introduced Juneteenth holiday legislation in November of 2019. The legislation was stalled because of budget concerns.

However, on June 14, 2021, Mayor Lightfoot made a surprise announcement at the Chicago Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony at Daley Plaza that she would be making Juneteenth a citywide holiday. Two days later (June 16, 2021), Governor Pritzker signed Juneteenth legislation and President Biden signed federal Juneteenth legislation the next day on June 17, 2021.

Now that Juneteenth is an official holiday, some Juneteenth organizers are working to protect it from being co-opted by corporate interests. “The monetization of Juneteenth unfortunately has arrived. Corporations like Walmart have already attempted to sell plates, cups, and ice cream in regards to Juneteenth,” says Torrence Gardner of the Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition. “The reason this is an issue is that the money Walmart sought to profit from this holiday will go straight to their white CEO named Doug McMillon and the company’s shareholders while they continue to pay lower than $15 an hour wage to their employers (21% of Walmart’s workforce is Black). This is the same company that Black supervisors, senior managers, and directors said they would not recommend the company to others according to an internal survey.”

Gardner continues by stating, “This was to be expected. We live in a capitalist country. However, it does not make it right. Cultural appropriation for personal or political gains is a legacy that we must rid ourselves of in this country. Juneteenth is more than just a barbeque, flags, and events. It’s a way of life. As a Black person who descends from ancestors who were enslaved, this is deeply personal. For white-owned corporations to try to profit off a holiday that recognizes the freedom of Black bodies which were commodified, this is a sick irony.”

Another Juneteenth organizer upset about how big businesses are participating in the holiday is LaCreshia Birts, founder of the Black Remembrance Project and lead co-chair of the CJPC. “Considering that this country has yet to take true action to repair the economic injuries of slavery, it is morally unjust and arguably predatory for corporate entities to capitalize off Juneteenth in ways that don’t directly benefit the descendant community.,” says Birts. “As someone who fought for this holiday, as a way to give my ancestors their proper respect and recognition for their suffering, I will not stand by and let corporations profit from our pain. I refuse to allow big businesses to corrupt our community’s desire to honor our enslaved ancestors and the Black American experience in this country. As a community organizer, I will do my part to protect the respect of Juneteenth by any means necessary.”

The Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition is seeking to call corporations in for accountability and set better standards around supporting the Juneteenth holiday. The virtual discussion the group is hosting in July is one way they’re hoping to shift business practices. CJPC is also reaching out to DEI experts to help form strategies around how the Juneteenth holiday can be embraced by companies in ways that mirror the true spirit of Black liberation and respectfully recognize the legacy of American slavery. In the meantime, CJPC is already ensuring that Chicago’s Juneteenth events are led by Black American organizers and working to elevate local Black Businesses. The Black Mall which is also a member organization of CJPC is a digital marketing entity for Black-owned businesses. The company increases awareness of Black brands through its directory, digital marketing, and events. The Black Mall is coordinating a Black Business Crawl for Juneteenth Monday, June 13, 2022 – Friday, June 17, 2022. More information about this can be found on TheBlackMall.com.

“Big-box corporations and institutions have been historically funded off of the backs of our enslaved, African ancestors that had sustained the wealth of their families for generations upon generations after the abolishment of slavery. These institutions should be focused on how to contribute to the repair of the communities of the descendants of the enslaved and not the continual exploitation thereof. I look forward to how they will intentionally contribute back to the economic uplift of Black communities through job training, employment with fair wages, and capital,” says Cassiopeia, Co-founder of The Black Mall.

“Juneteenth represents the dawn of a new day when the dark night of slavery was officially outlawed in the United States of America,” says Theodore Joseph Crawford, Chicago Juneteenth Planning Committee member, and founder of Black Culture Week. Black Culture Week is an initiative that provides healing and Black-centered community programming, during the week of Juneteenth.

“But now, with the shackles of slavery removed,” says Crawford. “Juneteenth celebrates our hard-fought freedom and reminds us that there is much more to be done to correct the injustices experienced by Black people in Chicago and in the United States of America.”

CJPC encourages community members to alert them when they see Juneteenth products coming from majorly white-owned corporations like Walmart, by using the hashtag #ProtectJuneteenth on social media. Additionally, Birts, Crawford, and Gardner excitedly welcome others to join the Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition, where they will continue to plan and facilitate cooperative efforts in celebration of the newly recognized holiday.

Parties interested in future partnerships should contact the Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition via email at ChicagoJuneteenth@gmail.com

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