DEI and Civic Engagement in Honor of Juneteenth

Juneteenth celebrates the day, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender, that Union forces arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the freedom of former slaves in the final-holdout Confederate state on June 19, 1865. Even then, however, slavery in the United States did not end overnight — the 13th Amendment did not free slaves in two slaveholding Union states until December of that year. And the civil rights movement of the 20th century and the protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 give voice to the fact that the end of slavery was not the end of systemic racism.

As much as Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, then, it is also a reminder that inequities persist, and that ending systemic racism is a process that requires work. Honoring June 19 is a step any organization can take in its fight against systemic racism. Kate Fishburne, MX’s VP of organizational development, helms our agency’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Under Kate’s guidance, we recently set aside a portion of our regular workday to educate our employees on the value of celebrating Juneteenth and how to manifest diversity and inclusion regularly to create stronger, more impactful communities.

During our event, we shared some digital screen time with Chicago Scholars and By The Hand Club For Kids to spotlight some young future leaders on their journeys through high school and hear about their goals for higher education. Fishburne welcomed our guests by stating, “Both of these organizations are doing incredible work in providing support to kids and teens from under-resourced communities here in the Chicago area. They help give them a leg-up to achieve their potential and gain access to opportunities they might not otherwise have had.”

Jeffery Beckham, chief executive officer of Chicago Scholars, kicked off the event. “I’ll start with a baseline fact that we all can acknowledge: The world has changed. Whether it is the things happening regarding COVID-19 and changing how we work and gather, or the changes that happened after the murder of George Floyd and the way we approach our world from a standpoint of social justice.” Beckham continued to develop a theme of social justice to eradicate poverty that will help gain access to education and jobs. “If you look at the graduation rates of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students,” stated Beckham, “students that come from the lowest economic bracket and are comparable to the students that we serve, they graduate at about a 49% clip over six years. Because of Chicago Scholars’ support and the things we provide them, our secret sauce, our students graduate at an 83% rate over six years.”

A large group of 30 plus adolescents representing the diversity of the students in the Chicago Scholars. The teens are smiling, hugging, and overall excited to be scholars.

We also had the privilege of hearing from a few of those scholars during the event including Cherish Tate, a graduate from George Westinghouse College Prep, who will be pursuing studies in broadcast and journalism; Dimarvin Puerto, a sophomore and college scholar at Wake Forest University, whose intended majors are political science and Spanish with a minor in Latin American studies; Eduardo Frausto, a sophomore at Georgia State University, a marketing major; and Kayla Cain, a recent graduate of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, who will be studying film and TV production.

By The Hand Club For Kids joined us for the second half of our Juneteenth event represented by Derrick Buckingham, director of donor and partner relations; Rodney Williams, director of entrepreneurship and economic development; and Azariah Baker, a high school sophomore who has attended By The Hand Club since first grade. This Chicago organization helps children in under-resourced neighborhoods have an abundant life by taking kids by the hand and walking with them from kindergarten through college, loving and nurturing them — mind, body, and soul.

Williams took a moment to describe the systemic racism that plagues the Austin community of Chicago. “The Austin community is known for two things. One, we are a food desert … you are looking at 18–19 liquor stores to three grocery stores as of last year. One of those (grocery stores) just recently closed in the last couple of months.” The second item Austin is known for, according to Williams, is the number of homicides within the community.

Three separate images depicting the community of youth organizers of the Austin Harvest created by By The Hand Club For Kids. First image is a photo of two young teens arranging flowers for bouquets. The second image is a group of teens with the leaders of By The Hand Club For Kids proudly standing with their fists in the air. The third image is a crowd at the check-out lane at the Austin Harvest. A teen is helping a Chicago police officer check-out their purchases.

Looking to help their community with systemic solutions, Azariah Baker and several fellow teens created the Austin Harvest fresh food market, with the assistance of By The Hand Club For Kids. Baker took inventory of her Austin community and saw the lack of healthy food options for residents. “As fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, we were frustrated that nothing was happening for our community … just creating Austin Harvest was immediately solving systemic issues,” Baker explained. Austin Harvest, located at 423 N. Laramie Ave. in Chicago, offers fresh and affordable produce and other food for the Austin community.

We were frustrated that nothing was happening for our community … just creating Austin Harvest was immediately solving systemic issues.
Azariah Baker

We are incredibly grateful for the time Chicago Scholars and The By The Hand Club For Kids spent with us. Each of us ended the event feeling inspired by the information and stories our guests shared, and we’re looking forward to discovering ways we can help contribute. If you are interested in learning more about either of these organizations or want to get involved, please use the links below to help make your impact.

By The Hand Club For Kids

Chicago Scholars