By Kimeko McCoy

While many Americans are familiar with July 4th as the birth of American independence, many are less familiar with Juneteenth, which celebrates the ending of slavery in the United States.

A group of Bay-Area collectives known as HellaCreative is looking to change that with their #HellaJuneteenth initiative, calling on the nation to observe the day of Black liberation and push for it to be “recognized and celebrated in all 50 states and territories of the United States of America.”

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” But the news didn’t reach Texas, where there weren’t enough Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order, until two and a half years later.

Thus the holiday Juneteenth.

According to a press release, the idea for #HellaJuneteenth started when the minds behind HellaCreative decided to “channel their frustrations into impactful change.”

“We want companies to know that we’re committed to see them establish this as a holiday, even without federal recognition,” a HellaCreative spokesperson said in an email. “We want people who have influence to take the step to acknowledge the day, and it’s importance to the country and society as a whole.”

On the HellaCreative website, companies can find more information about Juneteenth, ways to take action and other resources. Noting that recognizing the holiday is just the tip of the iceberg, the organization is asking companies to carry the initiative past performatively acknowledging it and have a “wider conversation about the black experience in America” for long-term change.

“We want people to be more cognizant of how they support or deny the black community,” the spokesperson said. “Our role in this is to help companies to be accountable to their commitment.”

Our role in this is to help companies to be accountable to their commitment.”

HellaCreative Spokesperson

According to HellaCreative, accountability can look like companies “reviewing their supplier lists and making sure they have a diverse set of vendors” or “hiring more black leadership, into more roles than solely (diversity and inclusion) roles.”

Since initiating the idea, #HellaJuneteenth has grown with support from more than 250 companies. Last week, VSCO CEO Joel Flory took to LinkedIn to announce the company’s participation in #HellaJuneteenth. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey made a similar announcement on Twitter. Ogilvy, Thinx, Lyft and a mountain of other companies have also answered HellaCreative’s call, which has been growing like wildfire.

Digital design company Huge Inc. has also responded, vowing to publicly observe the holiday and embracing the rallying cry Black lives matter.

Darien LaBeach serves as director of diversity, equity and inclusion strategy at Huge Inc. Participating in #HellaJuneteenth and other diversity initiatives is about making sure that the company is showing up and not just talking about it, he said. The global agency is encouraging employees to use their Juneteenth holiday to practice self-care, and think about ways to further the message.

“A lot of the problems that are being talked about right now in the world are not new,” LaBeach said. “If we want to have a real hand in shifting culture and actually making progress, then that means that we also have to be consistent in talking about solutions and in talking about the problems that exist.”

Moving forward, LaBeach and Huge Inc. have already committed to observing the holiday consistently in the future.

“It’s something that we have to be consistent with. Otherwise, it becomes a moment as opposed to anything that is systemic or even called a movement,” he said. “This isn’t about calling anybody out. This is only about calling everybody in to make change that we know can be recognized.”

So what happens after #HellaJuneteenth? That’s the million-dollar question that the minds behind HellaCreative are still figuring out as the movement continues to grow exponentially. 

Kimeko McCoy is a Brooklyn-based writer, digital marketer and social media strategist that has written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Adweek and the St. Augustine Record.