What does it mean to acknowledge Juneteenth?
It means observing a day known as “Freedom Day,” “Jubilee Day,” “Liberation Day.” It means recognizing the contributions of enslaved Africans and honoring the day in 1865 upon which even those in the then-isolated reaches of Texas were finally notified that they were no longer property and, now, legally, human beings. But most importantly, it means understanding, celebrating, and sharing with others that African-American history is American history. Even, and maybe especially, the very painful chapters.
In the spring of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, we all became part of a raising of consciousness that urged us to always remember and reflect on our common humanity. And part of celebrating that common humanity means noticing and dismantling systems like the one that caused a white police officer to put his knee on the neck of a defenseless Black man for almost eight minutes and kill him. As a company, alongside the rest of the country, we realized we could no longer sit by on the margins of this conversation and say that the consequences of oppressive systems don’t apply to any of us – because, the truth is, we are all parts of the systems that we create as communities. And, as a society made up of neighborhoods and spaces we all share and live in, affirming and centering that common humanity is paramount.
It’s too easy to be silent. And our CEO Bill Strathmann recognized that early on with a statement about our priorities. But at the same time, none of us truly has a full understanding of another person and their lived experiences, and starting the conversations around that can be a daunting task. So, we intentionally leaned into the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We sought to foster conditions necessary to both help each and every one of us at Network for Good come to a deeper understanding of those around us and to continue to engage meaningfully in these continuous conversations.
“Brown Bag Lunch-n-Learns,” non-mandatory lunchtime meetings that included group conversation and breakout room activities, proved to be effective “safe spaces” for those conversations. The goal is not — and never was — to push any sort of political agenda. We just wanted to bring people together and, after coming up with some ground rules for discussion as a community, share some concepts and connect those concepts with history and current external factors shaping our world. Then, it was their turn to discuss some questions we prepared about those topics that ranged from base-level (“What does inclusion mean to you?”) to more advanced (“How is your identity impacted by current events?”). Everyone comes to these conversations from a different background, familiarity with terms/concepts, and comfort level. Our goal was to respect that and make sure that everyone could have a meaningful experience that would resonate with them as they went back into the world and engaged colleagues, friends, and peers. It was about increasing awareness and making space to listen to others. No right/wrong or agree/disagree dichotomy. Just to listen to our colleagues and learn about them and from their perspectives, without assigning judgement or forming opinions. Just listening and learning.
After each lunch, we sent out a survey. While these conversations represented uncharted territory for many of our colleagues, it was encouraging to read about their openness to and excitement about dialoguing with their peers. And going forward, we’re going to continue to hold space for those conversations, to connect the dots for our colleagues across history and lived experience, and continue to show up, as people, with courage and humanity. We’ll keep asking, how can we learn from each other? How can we sit in uncomfortable spaces? How can we continue to grow? We’ll continue to answer the constant call to courage that is put out every day by what happens in our world. And, as we expand initiatives at Network for Good to address those events within our community, it’s especially meaningful to know that our coworkers stand with us.
–Orrin Webb is the Sales Operations Manager at Network for Good and Maria Azuri serves as a Senior Program Director for Impact and Sustainability. They have been leading Network for Good’s internal initiatives on DEI.