Juneteenth and What Nonprofits Can Do to Address Racial Injustice

By Dr. Alicia Schatteman

Juneteenth logo with the words Justice, Freedom and Democracy

Today is Juneteenth (a combination of June and nineteenth) named because June 19th, 1865 was the day when enslaved African Americans in the westernmost part of the Union (Galveston, Texas) were told of the Emancipation Proclamation, although technically issued two years before.  June 19th was chosen because that was the day the last every last enslaved American had been told of their status.  Juneteenth celebrations serve as a reminder that until everyone is free, no one is free.  Six nonprofit black museums and historical institutions across the U.S. have collaborated for a digital commemoration of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth streaming today at 10 am Central.

Companies, organizations, academics, and individuals are all speaking out about systemic racism and what we can all do to change it. I invite you to listen to a recent interview with Dr. Joseph Flynn, a faculty associate of the Center, where he discusses the history – and modern relevance – of Juneteenth with Cliff Kelley from WVON-1690 AM.

The killing of George Floyd will be seen as a marker in history, a distinct point in time, of the change that came after.  Nonprofit organizations have begun and need to begin to ask themselves what can we do? What is our organization doing to fight against racial injustice, to break down systems that don’t represent everyone in our society?  That work is beginning. Many nonprofit leaders issued statements on behalf of their organizations to speak out against racial injustice.  Many of those statements are provided in this Chronicle of Philanthropy article.

I believe that the path forward for nonprofit organizations includes three vital steps: listen, evaluate, and act.

Listen:

Listen to the people you serve, your staff, your board, your volunteers, and your community.  Let them share their honest and open thoughts about how they are treated, how they walk through life, how they are hurting because of racism and injustice.  First, we listen, then we can heal.

Evaluate:

Nonprofit organizations are grounded by stated or unstated values. They are at the core of the work to serve the public and address their mission. Values guide decisions and actions internally and externally. Now is a good time to examine your values in relation to racial injustice.  Do you explicitly state a commitment to inclusivity, diversity, racial justice?  Take time to consider that “COVID is just the latest incarnation of how structural racism manifests. And in some cases, the conversations have shifted to use COVID as an illustration of how structural racism unfolds” according to this article by Kerrien Suarez, executive director of Equity in the Center, a foundation-supported effort to promote race equity in philanthropy and the social sector.  What do your organizational values truly value?

Act:

The Boy Scouts of America recently issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter but also said it will require Eagle Scouts to earn a diversity and inclusion badge and examine its own role in perpetuating racism.  What can your organization do?  Of course, standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement is important.  But we also need to look inward. What’s underneath; what structures are in place that may inhibit everyone from fully participating in our organization and in our communities?

Today let’s celebrate Juneteenth and acknowledge what it stands for and then acknowledge that there’s more work to be done and get to that work.

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