Diversity Startups

A ‘New’ Company Holiday: Juneteenth Recognized By Startups And VCs 

Illustration of Black people under the word Juneteenth

A growing number of startups and venture capital firms are recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday for the first time.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and spread word that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free, according to Juneteenth.com. Worth noting is that this happened 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

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This year, startups including VSCO, Zocdoc, Glossier and Zenefits have committed to recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday. So have VC firms including GGV Capital, Spark Capital and Sequoia Capital, according to Hella Juneteenth, an initiative started by the Bay Area collective Hella Creative. Additionally, major companies like Twitter and Nike have also announced they will be recognizing the holiday.

Juneteenth hasn’t historically been recognized as a holiday by companies in the way the Fourth of July has been. That’s something Hella Creative wants to change.

“Really, this is the first touch point to get brands, companies [and] people to recognize and be more cognizant of how they support or deny the black community,” said June Johnson, a member of Hella Creative, in an interview with Crunchbase News.

Hella Creative was formed around the time of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as a Slack group for people to stay in touch on a regular basis, member Joy Ekuta said. It launched the Hella Juneteenth website this month as a call to action–within 48 hours of deciding they wanted to do more–to commemorate the holiday.

The group initially set a goal of having 100 companies commit to recognizing Juneteenth, and pushed that goal up to 500 after companies began to rapidly commit. As of midday Thursday, 437 companies had committed to recognizing Juneteenth, with a long list of submissions Hella Creative still had to sort through.

One of the most high-profile commitments has come from Twitter.

CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that Twitter and Square would recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday last week, and included a link to Hella Juneteenth. Other tech companies, startups and venture capital firms have joined as well.

Venture capital firm FirstMark Capital announced on Monday that Juneteenth would be an annual company holiday. It noted that the team would be dedicating Friday to reflection, action and service.

“Just one step as part of a broader and deeper conversation, which needs to happen throughout the year,” FirstMark tweeted.

A renewed focus

The growing list of organizations recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday follows the death of George Floyd, which sparked worldwide protests against police brutality and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Since then, conversations around the lack of diversity in the tech industry has increased.

In recent weeks, organizations like BLCK VC, which aims to empower and advance black venture investors, hosted an online event “We Won’t Wait.” Meanwhile, firms like Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank announced funds to invest in underrepresented founders. And countless companies and VC firms have spoken out in solidarity with the black community–many of them with track records of specifically supporting diverse founders and hiring.

It’s no secret there’s a diversity problem in venture capital and tech, especially within leadership roles. According to a study released last year by RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC, just 1 percent of venture-backed founders were black.

Several firms are trying to fix that statistic by focusing on diverse, underrepresented founders. Backstage Capital, Harlem Capital and Plexo Capital are among them.

Hella Creative chose to focus on companies because of their influence, Johnson said. The effort is also calling for long-term change.

“This is a moment we have since forgotten,” said Hella Creative co-founder Miles Dotson referring to Juneteenth. “It’s a moment that’s really pivotal to the history of the country that needs remembrance, that needs context, that can help us realize what has gone wrong since.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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