Juneteenth 2021: Chicago-area companies recognize holiday with time off, celebrations

Juneteenth federal holiday 2021: 'We see you, we value you, we understand your history'
CHICAGO (WLS) -- More companies are recognizing Juneteenth.

Retailers like Best Buy and Target have made it a paid company holiday. Others, like Fifth Third Bank, have planned employee celebrations instead.

"Juneteenth is the day when we say to our African American employees, as well as our broader employees, that we see you, we value you, we understand your history," said Stephanie Smith, Fifth Third Bank chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Smith has been with Fifth Third for more than two decades. In 2019, she was named chief diversity and inclusion officer.

She said the banking giant wants to do more than just celebrate its Black employees. It's committed $2.8 billion to support Black Americans, allocating the vast majority of that money for lending and another $500 million toward revitalizing neighborhoods and communities of color.

"Diversity is a better, more productive, innovative workforce. It's a larger number of consumers. And it impacts our communities," Smith said.

SEE MORE: Juneteenth history commemorated in half-hour special 'Our Chicago: Black Freedom'

Tiffany Hamel Johnson couldn't agree more. She runs Chicago United, an organization that works with companies on diversity, inclusion and talent management.

"People are demanding change. People are demanding accountability," she said.

Data from the Illinois secretary of state show that while people of color account for nearly 40% of the state's population, they make up only about 15% of corporate board seats.

"You'll see these companies, McDonald's or Hyatt, you'll see that they're putting performance-based measurement within their companies and within their culture, to make sure you're being accountable and looking at how you drive change," Hamel Johnson said.

But progress has been slow, especially in the executive ranks. There are just five Black CEOs among Fortune 500 companies.

"Would I like to see more? Yes. Can we do more? Yes. Does more need to be done? Yes," Smith said. "Corporate America and our nation will not be able to roll back 400 years in a moment, a day or a month. But we can start that work right now."
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