Is it Time to Question the Promise of the American Dream? A Juneteenth Reflection.
Amanda Lake, Emily Tracy, Hillary Ziegenhagen
During an employee forum hosted by our colleagues Josette Thompson and Amanda Powers last week, we commemorated Juneteenth by participating in an engaging and raw conversation around its historical significance and meaning. More importantly, we discussed what responsibility we have as a company, as a group of employees, as adults and as parents to question our history and the promise of the American dream.
Many of us only recently came to learn the details of Juneteenth’s origins, having not learned about the holiday in any history class nor been privy to the celebrations that have taken place for generations around the country. Most of us were first exposed to the rich traditions and significance of June 19th well into adulthood, long after we considered ourselves “educated” allies. We lamented that most of us have only come to a real understanding of the holiday’s significance now, after 155 years. June 19th, 2020 also coincided with a long-overdue global movement for true racial equality and change. Perhaps this year marks a new awakening, in which we as Americans reckon with our history while pushing our country forward.
During our discussion with 100+ colleagues, we challenged ourselves and each other, openly questioned our understanding of history, including which factors determine the moments that become celebrated, and if Independence Day, July 4th, holds the same significance this year without our collective rose-colored glasses. We talked about the changes that we need to make as an organization and what we can do as parents, friends and community members to help foster education, action and, ultimately, change. The discussion struck a chord of hope as teammates shared their own experiences, asked challenging questions, and demonstrated a desire to be better.
As communicators, it is our role to push past the “spin,” to become informed, to find the facts and to uncover how we can become productive contributors to change. The American Dream has been an ideal for many – the Dreamers, the rebels and the refugees – who have crossed our borders, but it now seems fair to question whether the dream as currently defined is inclusive and equally accessible to all who pursue it. If not, does it hold the same aspirational qualities as it once did? Are we willing to commit to creating – and not just hoping for – a level playing field? For just as many people who have doors open to them inside of our borders, many have found that the same doors can also be closed to opportunities.
As three ordinary moms hoping for an extraordinary future, we have hope, we have determination and we have the resources to drive change. Not only in terms of creating an open, diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace environment, but in raising and supporting the next generation to understand our history’s hard truths. We need to take time to celebrate the victories and to reflect on our indiscretions and mistakes and come up with a better path forward. Communicating our commitment isn’t enough. One or two conversations aren’t enough. Sustained change will require reflection, education and action. And more specifically, it will require your continued time, energy and patience to be vocal about your children’s education, to be an engaged and active member of your community and to find your voice in the corporate setting that recognizes inequality and speaks out against it.
The American Dream can still be alive and well if we work to make sure that all are not only welcomed, but included, engaged and supported. And in 2021, we look forward to celebrating two separate but distinct independence days – the birth of our nation and the end of slavery.
"Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation." - Coretta Scott King, human rights activist and leader