Commemorating Juneteenth

Employee resource group Black@ is commemorating Juneteenth with a series of actions.

Smiling family with woman standing next to man holding baby girl

Employee resource group Black@ is commemorating Juneteenth with a series of actions.

Juneteenth is a day that commemorates the end of enslavement for Black people in the US, and emphasizes education and achievement.*

Slavery was abolished under the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, Black people in Texas remained enslaved until June 19, 1865. Juneteenth recognizes the date when enslaved people in Texas came to learn that they had been freed. 

This year, Black@, our employee resource group for employees who identify as Black and their allies, will recognize Juneteenth with Leaning into Liberation, a panel discussion on Afro-futurism that aims to pivot the discussion from what enslaved ancestors endured to how their descendants are living out their dreams.

Additionally, Black@ is holding a laptop donation event for Larkin Youth Services, a San Francisco-based nonprofit empowering young people to move beyond homelessness. Those also interested in contributing to Larkin Youth Services can do so via Deed, which also has company matching.

Below is an email from Black@ co-leads Ariel Ajagu and Simone Harvey, shared with Black@ members about the significance of the holiday and what liberation means today.

Dear Black@, Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,

This is the second year many of us are celebrating Juneteenth as a company holiday, and it is now recognized as a Federal holiday. In light of what seems like relentless steps back we take as a country, what does it mean that this holiday of liberation is becoming mainstream? The commercialization, of course, has started, but what does it mark the beginning of for us Black People in the workplace? We, as a small segment of this community, we, as privileged stewards of Black@ Airbnb, would like to offer you some thoughts on the idea of liberation in new contexts.

We both grew up with a foot on the line to whiteness; wrestling with it, defending against it, benefiting from it. Sharing this context with you matters because we both have been imposters across cultures, geographies, and corporate settings. We want to use what we’ve learned about proximity to power, which means proximity to whiteness, to do our part in nurturing the Black community. This is a driving force in how Black@ as a group organizes, not just as a community, but as a platform for Black People. 

This Juneteenth is particularly defining. Two years past our summer of racial reckoning, when it feels like society is backsliding, we look to Juneteenth not as a history lesson, but rather, an aspiration for liberation. It’s a call to action; it’s a wanting for change. This drive to renegotiate our relationship to power is particularly familiar to Black People. In the 403 years since 1619, we’ve done this negotiation many times and in many forms. Juneteenth’s very existence is proof that we can transmute our fate. Change is possible, even in the microcosm that is Airbnb. Liberation in the corporate context is a renegotiation of power. In what manner do we get to participate in corporate systems? To what degree are we able to influence and to what measure are we able to determine our own fate, without interference? Questions around who gets to be in charge and why are always complicated, in and outside of the office. No one wants to feel like they’re on the losing end. And no one has to.

While many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are founded as safe spaces for marginalized voices  and as a way to find community, we are aspiring for Black@ to become a vehicle for Black people to succeed internally, and in the industry. In the past three years we’ve published articles and created activations that support our Black community inside and outside of Airbnb: 

We are hoping for a collective increase in resources across the tech industry by sharing what we learn, making our best practices available, and building on each other’s creativity. We believe that, in order to capitalize on pockets of agency and inspiration, we all have a contribution to make. We are calling to our allies to continue to offer your support and your access. If you don’t know where to start, connect with us. There is room for you to amplify, support, or lead.

If we are quilted together by our experiences, our collective history, the barriers we have in common, what defines each square of this fabric that we own? Each represents a small pocket of opportunity. Everybody is in a different place and the shift will only come when we hit a critical mass of us working together to reinforce each others’ agency. We get to critical mass through critical relationships (adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy). We invite you to connect with us in this effort to build. 

With love and solidarity,

Ariel & Simone, Black@Airbnb

“My day job fuels my career, and Black@ feeds my soul.” – Ashlei Thomas, Senior Market Manager

*Airbnb offers Juneteenth as a paid company holiday in the US, as well as recognizing and fighting for the equality of oppressed people globally. For employees based outside the US, Airbnb offers a floating holiday, known as Liberation Floating Holiday.