On June 17th, we came together for our first-ever Juneteenth celebration, sponsored by State Farm. The event, led by our 619 Employee Resource Group, commemorated the day slavery finally ended in the United States through an insightful conversation about Black history, systemic racism, inclusion, allyship, and hope. For two hours, we learned, shared, and sang as we celebrated Juneteenth, which is now officially a federally recognized holiday!

We kicked off the celebration with opening comments from 1871 CEO Betsy Ziegler, who introduced the day’s events. Our speakers included:

First up was State Farm Technology Director Collete Fung, who spoke about State Farm’s commitment to promoting equality and standing firm with the cause of bringing about change to create safer and better educated communities. Colette, who leads the diversity and inclusion efforts for all enterprise technology at the company, believes that through events like these, we are able to look ahead and bring about the change that is so desperately needed. “What an amazing opportunity this is to reflect on our past, while confronting and honoring the present,” she said, which set the tone for an informative and insightful afternoon. 

Next up was our main event: a fireside chat led by our keynote speaker Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott, the President of Chicago State University and a well-known advocate for equity in education. Last year, she formed and co-chaired the Equity Working Group for Black Students’ Access and Success in Illinois Higher Education, a cross-industry working group to address the growing crisis for Black students in Illinois’ higher education system. She touched on this in her keynote address, sharing her personal experience with racial disparities in education and how tackling this issue has greatly influenced her work. 

“My mother, father, and their friends were pioneers in integrating the schools of Shreveport, Louisiana, so I understood how powerful education could be,” she shared. “We saw the statistic that the rate at which Black students were going to college in Illinois had dropped 29% since 2013. All the data shows that we cannot blame the victim, but we have to look at what’s going on inside of the higher education ecosystem that is creating challenges and obstacles for our Black students. This is a national crisis that is amplified in Illinois.”

Her call to action was clear: spread the word. 

Z believes it’s imperative to share these important statistics to create awareness and bridge the gap. She explained that we must look for ways to support Black student access, and that even a small donation could potentially change a life. She took us through actionable solutions that should be implemented for Black students such as increased financial aid accessibility, bridge programs, integrated advising, mental health counseling, or paid internships. 

Next up, we gave the audience the center stage! We heard from dedicated teachers, unapologetic allies, and grateful 1871 members and staff sharing their experiences, sentiments, and asking for advice on how to do more for the community. 

Juana Estrada, Event Coordinator at 1871, then gave participants more insight on the essential role of 619, our internal employee resource group (ERG), which led today’s event. Named in honor of Juneteenth, 619 was founded by a committee of Black 1871 team members with the goal of equity, inclusivity, and allyship across all levels of the 1871 team, members, partners, and the larger tech world. 

After our captivating conversation, the time finally came for our participants to sit back and listen to some music! We enjoyed a live performance from Bill Brickey, a twenty-two year veteran of the Old Town School Of Music Chicago. Bill explained how music unified slaves in the rural South, and discussed the meanings behind the freedom songs he played, which were a driving force of the Civil Rights Movement. We sang along to songs like “Freedom Highway” and “We Shall Overcome,” closing off the afternoon on a beautiful note. 

We want to give a huge thanks to State Farm for sponsoring this event, as well as our speakers, participants, and organizers! Thank you for making our first ever Juneteenth celebration an educational and unforgettable experience! 

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