On the heels of nationwide racial justice protests, four familiar faces have banded together to ensure history is not forgotten.
Pharrell Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Kenya Barris and CNN’s Van Jones have launched what they are billing The Juneteenth Pledge to ensure Juneteenth—the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of slavery’s ending in the U.S—becomes a paid holiday in the U.S. They’re joined by international advocacy organizations Global Citizen and global CEO advisory firm Teneo in their massive effort to rally the private sector to observe the day.
News of the initiative comes after a June 26th virtual call that the group held with dozens of CEO and top executives from major corporations across the country. Williams opened and closed what is said to have been an emotional call, with Barris and Jones also speaking at length. Those who participated and agreed to the pledge include leaders from adidas, Airbnb, Amblin Partners, Greensill, HP, Participant, The J. M. Smucker Company, Starbucks and Under Armour.
The pledge calls on companies to not only declare Juneteenth a paid holiday for stateside employees but also to identify a relevant day in international offices to recognize the emancipation of enslaved people in their respective counties. Additionally, those who pledge are urged to encourage other leaders in business to do the same and to support their employees’ ability to learn, reflect and respect all cultures.
In the wake of George Floyd’s late-May killing, which prompted the aforementioned protests and a renewed conversation about equality, June 19th was, for the first time, widely acknowledged and in many cases recognized with a day off at companies across the entertainment industry and well beyond. To be sure that progress continues, a global campaign to educate and engage companies will kick into high gear over the coming weeks and months. While the focus will remain primarily on the private sector, the initiative will also include a social media campaign and work to support the bi-partisan effort in Congress to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
“I love America for its progression, but I’m really in love with the untapped potential of this country. It was incredible to have powerful minds come together and really listen and be open to celebrating Juneteenth as a paid holiday. These companies influence which way the wind blows, they influence the economy and this was a very meaningful step in the right direction,” Williams said in a statement Monday.
“Slavery is the recessive scar that all of us share as Americans and we will continue to share in the effects of that scar if we don’t actively address the impact it’s had on our country and, most especially, on Black people in this country. Celebrating Juneteenth and all that it represents from an American standpoint not only acknowledges the wounds of our past but helps guide us towards healing,” added Barris.
He continued: “Right now, we’re part of a unified movement and there is so much we can accomplish in coming together. CEOs can serve as agents of change by helping to shift us forward. Honoring Juneteenth as a holiday is not only a way to unite companies in creating positive change, but also a way to unite employees, consumers, communities and hopefully our country in doing the same.”
Earlier this month, Williams and Barris also revealed they would be collaborating on a Juneteenth-inspired musical at Netflix, where the #BlackAF creator and star has a wide-ranging overall deal. The latter comes in addition to the stage musical that the pair has been working on since 2018. Barris famously devoted a 2017 episode of Black-ish to the subject, too, with host network ABC re-airing the episode this year to commemorate the holiday. With the more recent pledge, the duo is looking to flex some political muscle as well.
“A miracle is beginning to happen. Out of break downs, breakthroughs can occur. A continent of common ground has emerged out of an ocean of tears which has 30-40 million white Americans thinking to themselves that racism is real and it’s not over and this system is more broken than they thought. And they want to know what to do,” said Jones, a CNN political commentator who has used his platform to speak passionately, if controversially, in the wake of Floyd’s death. “Someone killed a black man and everyone cares. This isn’t just a moment or a phase, this is a time to reset. History is being made. Recognizing this holiday is very symbolic move. Corporate America can help start a conversation that begins on a higher ground.”
DeGeneres echoed a version of what she’d contributed on Friday’s call: “This is a time to be on the right side of history,” she said. “As a white person, I cannot do enough. My wish is for everyone to join together in this fight.”
[Updated at 1:41 pm PST to reflect Van Jones’ controversial stance on President Trump’s police reform initiative.]