Viola Davis and Julius Tennon's Production Company Hosts Conversation About Race, Equity

Over many months, a total of 150 conversations about race, racism and equity have been happening across L.A. as City Council insiders seek to create a formal Office of Racial Equity. THR attended the most recent one.
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What do J.J. Abrams, Julius Tennon and Ariel Investment’s Mellody Hobson have in common? They’re all, along with a slew of other L..A. insiders, supporting a movement to help provide feedback in the creation of an L.A. Office of Racial Equity.

As the city council mulls the proposition — a vote on the initiative is expected soon — a series of informal gatherings (150 to be exact) have been taking place around town, led by president Herb J. Wesson Jr. and council member Mitch O’Farrell in partnership with grassroots social justice organization Community Coalition. The initiative, dubbed embRACE L.A., even set a goal for 2019 to finalize and approve the formation of an office that would seek to better serve, address and reform race and equity issues plaguing the city.

The latest gathering was held on Oct. 30 at the Burbank offices of JuVee Prods., Davis and husband Julius Tennon’s company, which The Hollywood Reporter attended. Although Davis wasn’t there — she was busy filming — Tennon and a dozen others dined on Peruvian take-out as they participated in an unfiltered chat led by Community Coalition president and CEO Alberto Retana and featuring staffers from his organization as well as JuVee. The group focused on answering a series of questions: How did your family arrive in America? How did you arrive in L.A.? What are you most/least proud of when it comes to race in L.A. and how does it most affect you? And what does racial equity mean to you?

Everyone from senior level JuVee staffers on down to interns were welcomed to participate in what turned out to be a rich conversation about race, racism and Hollywood’s efforts on diversity and inclusion. “How you arrived in America is an important one,” Retana told the group. “Because we may talk about how we arrived in L.A. but not usually America. The country is being torn apart and, at times, can feel incredibly divisive with policies that are hurting and dividing folks. We want to come together to have conversations about what’s happening to break through some of the assumptions we have about who people are and where they come from.”

There were individuals with family from Africa, Mexico and Costa Rica, others from Egypt and several with relatives who fled the Jim Crow South. Retana added that sitting down with JuVee staffers was a "match made in heaven."

Tennon stressed the importance of conversations like the one that happened during the intimate event. "If we’re going to change perceptions across race," he said, adding, "it’s more important now than ever in our country for us to come together as humans and try to make Los Angeles a better place."

As for equity, he added that it cannot happen without a seat at the table, something that is central to JuVee’s mission. "How can we get equity if we’re not really talking and sitting at the table? That’s why we give people opportunity," he said. "Too often, you walk into a place and can’t have a conversation with anybody, that’s why I let people get to me because we understand that there’s a huge gap of opportunity and you can’t fix that unless you have a seat."