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On Juneteenth, take a stand

June 14, 2021 - 1005 views

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On Juneteenth, take a stand

This juneteenth, don’t just take a day off — make a commitment to advocating for inclusion for all in the workplace and in your community.

I first learned about Juneteenth when I moved to Texas as a young girl. Although I was from another southern state, I’d never heard of it because back then, it was mainly celebrated in Texas.

In fact, upon learning about Juneteenth, which at the time was mainly recognized at family barbecues, not company mandated holidays or time off, I thought, “What an odd thing to celebrate. Why celebrate learning about your freedom two years late?” Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved people in Texas learned they’d been freed — more than 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and nearly six months after Congress passed the 13th amendment abolishing slavery.

Now that I’m older, I get it. We should celebrate the small victories and keep working to effect change. Juneteenth is a day to look back at what was, see how far we’ve come, and build momentum to make an even greater impact.

A starting point

There has been significant growth and change since that first Juneteenth 156 years ago, but there’s still much work to do to fight injustice. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, many companies took a public stand against injustice, including my employer, Cognizant.

Since the company’s initial statement in the summer of 2020, we’ve implemented various initiatives aimed at making our workforce more diverse and inclusive, including becoming a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Partnership for Racial Justice in Business and making Juneteenth a holiday in the US. Most recently, we released a commitment statement focused on advancing diversity and inclusion.

I’ve taken these commitments to heart and am working to create change beyond work and into my community of Southlake, TX. A Dallas suburb, Southlake has been in the news recently for implementing a controversial diversity plan in the local school district, the Carroll Independent School District (ISD). More than two years ago, after a few students went viral saying the N-word, the school board created a District Diversity Council of 63 parents, teachers, administrators and students, and tasked committee members to create a diversity plan (Cultural Competency Action Plan, or CCAP) for the district. 

The plan was met with opposition and false claims that it featured Critical Race Theory (CRT) and was eventually put on hold due to a temporary restraining order. This situation has spurred me to take action — as suggested in Cognizant’s commitment statement — and work to get a diversity and inclusion (D&I) plan implemented in my local school district. 

No time for silence

As the mother of a Black boy, I cannot be silent knowing that another Black student was told to “move to the back of the line because that’s where slaves belong.” I will stand up for the LGBTQ+ student who was first called the F-slur on their 13th birthday and alerted the vice principal, but the offender was not punished.

I will also advocate for the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish students who have been asked why they are not Christian, asked to convert to Christianity or told they will go to hell — by teachers or classmates. I will continue to show up and make my voice heard until a D&I plan is put in place in the Southlake Carroll ISD to protect all of the youth in my community from harassment like this.

Here’s my advice on how to truly be an ally and an advocate for change.

  • Continuously learn: Take time to learn about and assess the situation. I read the school district’s draft diversity plan for myself to understand what was included and to try to understand why some opposed it. I reviewed the timeline of events in my community. I read some of the 500-plus testimonials students shared of the racist, homophobic, xenophobic and religious incidents they endured. I read up on what CRT is — and what it is not. I read (and continue to read) articles from all points of view about what’s happening in my city. I attend school board meetings virtually and in-person to gather information and hear other points of view on diversity and inclusion related to K-12 schools.
  • Join forces: Find allies who share your point of view and work with them to effect change. I’ve gotten involved with a couple of different groups that support diversity and inclusion in my town. We communicate via social media and regular meetings — and come together to support various causes related to D&I in our community. We’ve vowed to advocate for all children who attend our schools, no matter their ability, race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  • Educate others: Once you’ve learned what’s happening, try to educate those around you. One group I joined, Dignity for All Texas Students, hosted a webinar panel discussion, “Moving Beyond the CCAP: Unifying Southlake through Diversity,” on the importance of diversity and inclusion in K-12, college and business settings. This group also mailed a newsletter to residents in the community, advocating for a diversity plan that guarantees the safety of students of all backgrounds.

    Local groups focused on implementing a D&I plan in our school district also use social media and press conferences to educate the community on education and D&I-related legislation and share testimonials (500 and counting) from past and current students highlighting discrimination and harassment.

  • Let your voice be heard: Be courageous and share your true feelings and views, whether in conversation with friends, neighbors or colleagues — in person or on social media. I recommend making statements at city council and school board meetings and writing op-eds for media publications. Be bold and be an upstander if you witness microaggressions, gaslighting, discrimination or harassment. I regularly make statements at school board meetings and had the honor of participating in a local NBC News Panel on Race in Schools to share my views on what’s happening in my community. 

This Juneteenth, don’t just take a day off; take a stand. Build on the example set by the many companies committed to becoming more inclusive and spread inclusion to your local communities. Work to make your workplaces and communities safe spaces for everyone, remembering the significance of Juneteenth by looking back, assessing progress and working toward a more just future.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Jennifer Green Godette

Jennifer Green Godette is a Diversity & Inclusion Marketing Leader at Cognizant.  She leverages her extensive marketing...

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