CURA sat down with transformational leader Laquan Austion, The Juneteenth Foundation CEO and Co-Founder to discuss what the Foundation is doing to recognize the contributions of Black Americans and increase education, economic, and social opportunities for Black Americans as well.
CURA: Describe the cultural significance of Juneteenth and why national recognition of Juneteenth is important.
Austion: Juneteenth, also known as America’s Second Independence Day, is a symbol of true American freedom and liberation. While it goes without saying that Black Americans have suffered from racial inequities and injustices beyond June 19, 1865, that day marks one of the first major milestones toward a brighter future for our community and for America. It is important that we honor the historical legacy of Black Americans who endured and helped build this country from the ground up and acknowledge a community that has continued to flourish throughout adversity.
CURA: Now that we are in our second year recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday, how do you view the progress that has been made over the past year? How is the celebration different?
Austion: Declaring Juneteenth as a federal holiday was one of many steps that have been taken to ensure that the Black story of perseverance continues to be shared on a national platform, but there is still progress to be made in terms of deepening our nation’s understanding of Black contributions to America’s fabric. This celebration is different because it has evolved from being primarily recognized by the Black community to being nationally recognized as the day America truly became “land of the free.”
CURA: What is your view of the narrative of Juneteenth? Are we celebrating this as a community or observing it as a community? What is the appropriate way to phrase it?
Austion: The current narrative surrounding Juneteenth is that it is merely a celebration for Black Americans, but its cultural significance extends beyond just a day for the Black Community to honor. We should both observe and celebrate this day as a nation. This day reminds us that liberty and freedom are a possibility for all Americans and that our nation should continue to work to protect that freedom and ensure that the vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is realized for every American regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion—and that’s worth celebrating.
CURA: The Freedom Festival is one of the Juneteenth Foundation’s staple events. Can you provide an overview of its origin and the activities spanning the four-day celebration?
Austion: The Juneteenth Foundation created the annual Freedom Festival to provide opportunities for the nation to come together to celebrate Juneteenth and in doing so support Black businesses, connect Black people to financial and professional opportunities, and honor the legacy of Black leaders in entertainment, music, culture, and philanthropy. The Freedom Festival will help set the tone on how we celebrate this defining moment and is packed with activities that anyone can get involved in.
- June 16 (Day 1): The weekend kicks off with an Honors and Awards show that will highlight Black excellence, our history, and the achievements of Black luminaries.
- June 17 morning (Day 2): For this first time, the Foundation is hosting a celebrity golf tournament and fundraiser on June 17. This event will bring together federal lawmakers, celebrities, CEOs, and community leaders to raise money for scholarships for students who attend Historically Black Colleges & Universities and to support youth STEM Programming.
- June 17 evening (Day 2): There will be a community block party to promote black business, vendors, music and culture.
- June 18 (Day 3): We will host the country’s largest Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Virtual Panel Discussion and Career Fair, featuring some of the nation’s largest brands and corporations who are committed to supporting and empowering Black Americans in the workplace. During the career fair, the Foundation will award a total of $250,000 to young Black students who are recipients of the Freedom Scholarship Award. $10,000 will be given to each winner.
- June 19 (Day 3): Fox Soul and BET will air The Juneteenth Honors Ceremony, so those who weren’t able to attend on evening one can tap into the celebration.
CURA: Beyond the Freedom Festival, how is The Juneteenth Foundation continuing its mission to promote Black excellence and create education, social and economic opportunities for Black Americans?
Austion: The work of The Juneteenth Foundation is year-round. Our core objectives are to:
- Invest in the next generation of Black scholars—primarily those who attended HBCUs—through scholarships and programming that will connect them to employers committed to fostering their professional growth.
- Ensure that DE&I becomes a sustainable and permanent component in America’s professional framework.
- Foster an environment that commemorates the accomplishments of the Black community.
CURA: Any closing thoughts?
Austion: I’m proud of the contributions The Juneteenth Foundation and our partners have accomplished for the Black community in the first few years of our organization’s existence, but there is still so much work to be done—we are in it for the long haul.
CURA is proud to support our pro bono client The Juneteenth Foundation for the second year in a row. They are an organization dedicated to the national recognition of Juneteenth and the celebration of freedom and Black culture. For more information about the Juneteenth Foundation and upcoming Freedom Festival Events, visit www.thejuneteenthfoundation.com!