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Some VCs now commemorate the 155-year-old tradition of Juneteenth

A handful of venture capital firms have announced they will observe the holiday on June 19, giving their workers the day to learn more about Juneteenth and reflect on racial injustice in the US. Many have pledged to make it an annual corporate holiday.

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It has been 155 years since slaves in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. It’s also been 155 years that Juneteenth, the holiday which stemmed from this moment, has largely gone unnoticed by the corporate world—until now.

A handful of venture capital firms announced they would observe the holiday on June 19, giving their workers the day to learn more about Juneteenth and reflect on racial injustice in the United States. Many have pledged to make it an annual corporate holiday.

Sequoia partner Roelof Botha announced the move on Twitter recently.

“We will honor this day to learn and reflect on how we can be a part of the solution to racial injustice, and take personal actions to support civil rights organizations and Black-owned businesses,” he tweeted.

And other firms such as 500 Startups, GGV Capital, FirstMark Capital and Kapor Capital have made similar declarations.

Black entrepreneurs like Cheddah founder Allen T. Lamb say Juneteenth offers firms and companies an accessible way to connect with their black peers.

“I think when you’re trying to begin an earnest conversation with the community that you’ve been detached from, you need to find a common space,” he said. “I think that finding something that is already celebrated by a community that you’re looking to touch is a great way to begin that conversation.”

Twitter, Target, the NFL, Amazon and others announced plans to commemorate the day. And Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday, while New York plans a similar measure.

Those actions follow over three weeks of protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which have illuminated national dialogue concerning racism, diversity and bias in corporate America.

Hundreds of companies have offered statements of solidarity and contributed donations to diversity causes. And it has also forced many companies to confront their own misgivings about the broader racial issues that have come to light, provoking dialogue about what needs to be done to address them.

Observing Juneteenth has not only become an acknowledgment of this, but also an opportunity to inform and effect change.

“It’s no longer simply words of what they intend to do, or pledge to do, or commit to do, it’s action,” Lamb said.

Matt Perry, the chief people officer at the Kapor Center, wrote in a Medium post that he wanted to offer staff guidance on “how to make the time off impactful, educational, meaningful and ensure it doesn’t become a summer version of an MLK-Day ‘ski weekend.’ ”

He encouraged staff to “reclaim Black Friday” by spending money at Black-owned businesses, which the organization plans to tally up to quantify how much was invested in the black community.

Foundation Capital also issued a call to action for venture capital firms on Twitter, encouraging others to share their commitments to combat racism in the space by June 19.

Juneteenth dates back to 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and the Union Army landed in Galveston, Texas, and informed the slaves there that slavery had been abolished, according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. That was over two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863.

Shocked by the news, the newly freed slaves in Texas celebrated their freedom, which led to annual picnics, pageants and parades across the country, according to the Texas State Historical Association. But over the years, interest in commemorating the occasion has been limited mainly to the black community.

“Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day,” according to a post on the National Museum of African American History & Culture website. “Although it has long celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans.”

Featured image via Dylan Buell/Getty Images.

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