Black@Amyris Employee Resource Group Leads Juneteenth Activities

June 17, 2022

On Monday, June 20th, Amyris will be closed in observance of the US federal holiday Juneteenth established last year by U.S. President Joe Biden who signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making it the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1983.

President Biden said Juneteenth marked the beginning of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality: “To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise because we’ve not gotten there yet.”

An enduring personal connection to Juneteenth
Kevin Hurtt, Associate Scientist 1 in Fermentation, Research & Development, says, “For me, Juneteenth is definitely a personal holiday. Most African Americans consider it the second Independence Day. My mother’s side [of the family] is actually from Galveston, Texas. Some of my ancestors were some of the last enslaved Black people in the country to learn that they had been emancipated. This was almost two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by [U.S. President Abraham] Lincoln. So, it is one of these holidays that is very close to a lot of American Black people, me in particular because I have that personal connection to it. It signifies a day that should’ve been celebrated as a federal holiday, I believe, far earlier, especially for the many contributions made by African Americans to the country, and how special of a day that it is for us.”

[PICTURED: Kevin Hurtt, associate scientist 1 in Fermentation, Research & Development, during this year’s Juneteenth social mixer at Amyris headquarters in Emeryville, CA.]

Amyris employees, led by employee resource groups Black@Amyris and OUT@Amyris, with the support of Amyris VP, DEIB Solomon Wilkins, are honoring Juneteenth and Black American culture in a variety of ways:

  • Volunteering at the Alameda County Community Food Bank, near Amyris’ Emeryville, CA headquarters.
  • Hosting an afternoon, outdoor mix-n-mingle social networking event
  • Leading a lunch-n-learn discussion where panelists share their experiences and reflections on the impact and significance of Juneteenth. This discussion seeks to illuminate historic struggles and hurdles while celebrating achievements made past, present, and future.

In addition to these events, Black@Amyris shared the following resources:

  • ListenRead or  Watch to learn more about the history of the holiday and how the institution of slavery still affects the United States today.
  • Understand the importance of  Black Joy.
  • Children are encouraged to participate, as well (for ideas, visit the  New York Public Library website).

Work celebrations of Juneteenth help to build community
Bonta Gobena, environmental health & safety coordinator, Manufacturing & Operations, says, “[The holiday has] definitely given us community here, and I definitely appreciate Amyris showcasing it and acknowledging the date by giving us a day off. I really appreciated that. Celebrating it here has given that to me.”

Looking back, Bontu continues, “A few of us actually started the ERG [Employee Resource Group, Black@Amyris] together. When I first started at Amyris, I sat next to two people who were both Black, funny enough. Out of everyone around in our section we were the three Black people sitting in a line. So, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is great; we see other people like us.’”

Bontu was inspired to reach out to HR, explaining why Juneteenth “is an important holiday for me as a Black woman, especially a Black woman in the STEM industry. It definitely signifies acknowledgement…being felt ‘seen’ in a way. Once it became a federal holiday it felt like it, the evolution of slavery, was finally being acknowledged. Acknowledging what had happened in the past, versus kinda just glazing over it. It’s given us a holiday to celebrate.”

[PICTURED: Bontu Gobena, environmental health & safety coordinator and one of the original founders of Black@Amyris, an employee resource group for Amyris employees, attending this year’s Juneteenth social mixer at Amyris headquarters.]

The history of Juneteenth
The official holiday of Juneteenth is Sunday, June 19, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the date, when U.S. federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed.

Two and half years earlier, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had established that all enslaved people in Confederate States in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” But the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly free any enslaved people, including the Black people in Galveston.

Today, the holiday also celebrates Black achievement and dignity, and the extensive contributions Black Americans have made to shaping U.S. democracy and culture.

[PICTURED: In celebration of Juneteenth, Amyris employees volunteered at the Alameda County Community Food Bank on June 14-15, 2022. Event organized by Amyris employee resource groups, Black@Amyris and OUT@Amyris.]

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