Snyker Spotlight: Reflecting on Juneteenth

Written by:
Kris Broughton
Kris Broughton

June 17, 2021

0 mins read

“Laurar. Moses. Sarah. Jack. Phoebie. Shiloh. Rhina. Carolina.”

It is not easy for me to read these names. These are the names of my enslaved ancestors.

It is not easy for me to read these names, because the images my mind conjures of their day-to-day existence in the mid-nineteenth century are worse than any horror movie Hollywood has ever created.

Last month, I agreed to do our Juneteenth Lunch & Learn here at Snyk. I’ve only participated in one Juneteenth event in my life, almost 30 years ago, after recently moving to Atlanta, Georgia as a young adult. This made putting together a presentation about Juneteenth for my company this year an interesting proposition. I found out that I was not alone — out of the handful of African American employees here at Snyk, only a couple of us are actually invested in the ritual celebration of Juneteenth as a part of our family heritage.

It would be easy for me to chalk this up to living in the mostly white suburbs north of Atlanta the last 25 years, but the suburban city next to mine (Roswell, Georgia) has a vibrant African American-oriented event schedule.

Laurar. Moses. Sarah. Jack. Phoebie. Shiloh. Rhina. Carolina.”

Slavery is an indelible part of my family history. The legacy of human bondage made survivalists out of their African American descendants. Descendants who persevered through the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights era to get my generation to the twenty-first century with our sanity and our dignity intact. The catchphrase from my favorite Southwest Airlines commercial in many ways sums up my family’s journey  — “you are now free to move about the country.”

For years, looking forward — rather than looking back to dwell on events I could not change — seemed to make the most sense. That was until I watched, along with the rest of America, that horrific nine-minute video of an African American man being suffocated to death by a Minneapolis police officer in broad daylight. It wasn’t just George Floyd’s death, but the multi-racial protests in response to Floyd’s murder all across the country that signaled that America itself was at an inflection point. Those who were traditionally voiceless were making themselves heard. The ambivalent middle was choosing a side. Talking publicly about a past America had never truly moved beyond had been normalized in those nine minutes.

All of a sudden, Black Lives Matter banners started popping up on corporate websites faster than the notifications on your iPhone. Young people across the country were leading the way on this, from the protests in the streets, to the insistence in their workplaces that their employers recognize publicly the importance of African American history and culture to the larger American experience. Practically overnight, Juneteenth became a new paid holiday at many companies, including Snyk. I was proud of this new generation for having the courage to ask for the things those in my generation have often felt we could not.

I was still agitated though, despite the massive outpouring of corporate and individual support, because I was a middle-aged Black man who could be made to “fit the description” anytime a police officer wanted me to be a suspect. I was still angry because that brown head being mashed into the pavement for nine minutes on the infamous video had a terrifying resemblance to my own.

Which brings us to now, a year later, when our passions have cooled, when the protesters have dispersed, and it is time to execute on all those heartfelt promises made in 2020.

This year, Juneteenth will be as much of a learning experience for me and some of my fellow Black employees as it is for many of our non-African American colleagues. In many ways, to really understand Juneteenth you need the proper context. You need to understand the ever-present drive for those enslaved to escape, to revolt, to continually challenge the status quo of America. You need to understand the role of the white abolitionists, who raised money, increased public awareness, often putting their lives and the lives of their families on the line to free their fellow man. You need to understand the power of the rhetoric of Frederick Douglass to put pressure on the Lincoln administration. You need to understand the psychological toll Harriet Tubman’s successful military raids took on Confederate troops.  You need to understand what was happening behind the scenes during the early days of the Civil War that incentivized Lincoln to write the Emancipation Proclamation. And you really need to understand how almost 200,000 Black Union soldiers — 10% of the Union’s entire army — helped make a difference in the war effort and pave the way for their own freedom.

In doing way too much research for this project I expanded my knowledge of America’s history — our history. And a part of our history is Juneteenth.

Back when I started my professional life, Martin Luther King’s birthday had been a federal holiday for just a few years. Most companies did not include it as one of their paid company holidays. Most Black professionals understood the unwritten rule — assimilation was the only way you would survive and thrive in the corporate world. You got used to leaving the more personal parts of your life, your history and your heritage at home.

But this is a new time. I am still frankly flabbergasted at the sheer number of white Americans who took to the streets last year with their Black Lives Matter t-shirts and banners. Still astonished at all of the Fortune 500 companies who plastered their websites with supportive banners and instituted Juneteenth as a paid holiday. If there ever was a sign that America was at least trying to grapple with the inconvenient truth of racial inequity, this is it.

So this year, I will do my part. I will get out of my comfort zone. This year, I will take the time and figure out how to participate in at least one Juneteenth event. For the culture. For the community. For me.

For Laurar. For Moses. For Sarah. For Jack. For Phoebie. For Shiloh. For Rhina. For Carolina.

There are a lot of great organizations doing the hard work out there this Juneteenth. If you have the time or the means, I’d encourage you to support them and the causes they stand for. Here are just a few:

  1. Equal Justice Initiative - Criminal justice reform, racial justice, and public education

  2. Center for Policing Equity - Evidence-based approaches to social justice, using data to create levers for social, cultural, and policy change

  3. Blacks in Tech - Resources, guidance, networking, and opportunities for members to share their expertise and advance their careers

  4. Ella Baker Center - Racial and economic justice for low-income people of color

  5. African American Planning Commission - Reducing homelessness and addressing other issues affecting Black communities

  6. Dream Academy - Afterschool and mentoring programs to break the cycle of poverty

  7. Harlem Children's Zone - Early childhood and family programs to break the cycle of poverty

  8. Thurgood Marshall College Fund - College scholarships, as well as job and internship placement

  9. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) - Interracial American organization created to work for the abolition of segregation and discrimination in housing, education, employment, voting, and transportation

  10. National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) - One of the only national organizations dedicated exclusively to the success and well-being of Black children

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