From its origin in Galveston, Texas in 1865, Juneteenth commemorates African American emancipation in the US. Why do you think it has taken so long for this day to become a holiday?
Juneteenth has a very complicated history. Aside from the day marking the celebration of when the last known slaves in Texas found out they were free – the day itself had been shadowed for decades receiving no real recognition despite its important historical significance.
Both legislators and activists had been fighting to recognize Juneteenth with no success until a very public tipping point in 2020. The broadcast of the murder of George Floyd brought racial injustice to the forefront. Paired with the onset of COVID-19 across the country, cities were locked down and people were stuck indoors and in front of screens. The Black community and beyond demanded systemic change to prevent horrendous acts against George Floyd and countless others from happening again. The day would later become a federal holiday the following year – a small and symbolic, but important, step in the right direction for the nation to acknowledge past and present issues of racial inequality.
Will you be giving space to people who wish to celebrate? How does observing this day create more awareness?
VIRTUE and VICE Media Group acknowledge the federal holiday by giving our staff the day off to recognize the holiday as they wish. We encourage our staff to learn more about the origin of Juneteenth and participate in activities that educate, celebrate and contribute in productive ways to Black communities.
Equal opportunity starts at the grassroots level and the structure of the advertising industry makes it extremely challenging for BIPOC to enter, without the right network. Do you have any programs in place to make it possible for underserved communities to access the industry?
We believe that diversity is extremely important to the success of every company in any industry and is something that we take pride in as we actively seek to increase the diversity and retention of our staff every year.
To that end, we have a number of efforts in play as part of a holistic approach to supporting BIPOC talent within the agency and industry-wide. Virtue hosts an internship program that introduces BIPOC students to both the media and advertising industries – as well as an apprenticeship program that is geared towards exposing formerly incarcerated individuals to the same industries to provide the proper training to enter and succeed.
We built “The People of Color Career Development Program” for our BIPOC staff which is a three-part series that serves as a forum for our teams to hear from different perspectives and the lived experiences of BIPOC leaders, creatives and entrepreneurs. The program has brought in the likes of Kofi Amoo-Gottfried (CMO, DoorDash) and Trisch Smith (Chief Diversity Officer at Edelman).
Our Black+ partnership with the National Urban League is an annual initiative that provides Black-owned businesses with pro-bono media campaigns, creative marketing services, and mentorship opportunities. The program supports our commitment to contributing back to the community in an impactful way.
Do you think our industry is progressing well enough towards greater diversity at the executive level?
Unfortunately, the advertising industry still has a long way to go with diversity – from junior levels to the executive level. Many agencies have made commitments to diversity but the statistics don’t reflect significant progress. There are plenty of well-qualified BIPOC candidates that should be considered for leadership positions but aren’t. How many Black, Latinx or AAPI CEOs are running major agencies globally or regionally? Very few. The same exists with managing directors, executive creative directors and any other position of leadership. At bare minimum, leadership should reflect the population of the nation…but again, it doesn’t. We, as an industry, must do much better.