Prior to joining Micron in April 2022, I was impressed with the company’s unwavering commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI). Micron was one of the first companies to observe Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when the last of the enslaved African Americans in Texas learned of their emancipation. Seeing Micron’s leadership has been gratifying, especially as we prepare to continue celebrations with people across the U.S. now that Juneteenth is a paid U.S. holiday.
I’ve also been reflecting on the history, life experiences and the sheer determination of a very special woman who was pivotal in advocating for the Juneteenth holiday, Ms. Opal Lee, the civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” who I had the good fortune of meeting earlier this year. A dynamic leader whose life story radiates light, courage, persistence, grit and tenacity, Ms. Lee started her quest to make Juneteenth a holiday when she was 89 years old. She walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to deliver 1.6 million signatures supporting the creation of the federal holiday. Five years later, President Joe Biden signed the bill to make June 19 a national holiday.
For many in my generation, Juneteenth was a missing piece of our history. As the campaign for the national holiday gained momentum, I had several colleagues and acquaintances ask me in confidence, “What is Juneteenth?” They honestly didn’t know.
As Ms. Lee shared her vision and journey driving toward a national holiday, it elevated everyone’s perspective on why Juneteenth matters. Ms. Lee spoke about Juneteenth as a celebration of freedom and unity, wanting everyone to understand that “Juneteenth is not just a Texas thing. It’s not just a Black thing. It’s about freedom for everyone.” A teacher by trade, Ms. Lee impressed upon everyone that education about Juneteenth is key to making sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Racist acts led to real hardship for Ms. Lee’s family. In 1939, after they moved to a white neighborhood in Texas, a mob of 500 people destroyed their home, forcing them to relocate. But she persevered through forgiveness and a deep love for all people. In several of her speaking engagements, she always reminds the audience, “If people have been taught to hate, they can be taught to love.” I was deeply inspired by this amazing woman who was driven to see a better world for everyone. And the opportunity to be a part of a conversation with Ms. Lee was humbling.
As our short engagement ended, she received a question about allyship and how people can make a difference. In her most gracious and engaging manner, she simply said, “Be a community of one.” Ms. Lee challenged all of us that day to work within our own families, friends and networks to change mindsets and hearts one person at a time. Ms. Lee said that if we take that approach, we can make a difference. That’s what we strive to do here at Micron.
Ms. Lee is a national treasure, and her words and wisdom had a profound impact on me. I very much believe education matters, and learning this history creates a sense of unity that inspires us all to work toward a better, more inclusive future for everyone.
Our history is uncomfortable. But bravely confronting it is how we learn the important lessons that help us all advance together. It’s unimaginable that for more than 200 years in America it was illegal for Black people to read, be educated, get married or have agency as humans. Even after slavery ended, it would be another 100 years before Black Americans would achieve civil rights. This impacted the lives of millions in our country, including my own family. My grandfather, who was born in 1906 in rural America, had an incredible work ethic, but he could not read or write and would often sign his name with an X. But thanks to the Civil Rights Act and other legislation, in just a few generations, he now has college-educated grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are doctors and engineers.
As one of those grandchildren and the daughter of parents raised in the difficulties of racial oppression and discrimination, I thank Ms. Opal Lee and all the other activists who made the impossible possible and now inspire me to do the same. I carry their lessons with me as I join you in Micron’s ongoing commitment to enrich lives for all.
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