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What is Juneteenth? Recognizing the Juneteenth holiday with leaders

Turnitin sat down with leaders of the BlackSource ERG community to hear more about their stories and how we can all honor Juneteenth.

Lynette Hodges
Lynette Hodges
Customer Success Manager, BlackSource ERG Co-chair
Jimmy Hudson
Jimmy Hudson
Senior Quality Engineer, BlackSource ERG Co-chair
Nosizwe Moyo
Nosizwe Moyo
Associate Technical Program Manager, BlackSource ERG Co-chair
Kelsey Bober
Kelsey Bober
Senior Content Marketing Manager

What does the Juneteenth holiday signify? Lynnette Hodges, Nosizwe Moyo, and Jimmy Hudson arrived at Turnitin with rich experiences, stories, and a desire for progress. They have impacted not only the organization, but many individuals’ lives with their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion–not to mention belonging, which Nosizwe identifies as the piece that can only come from each other, from truly seeing and supporting one another. Turnitin sat down with these leaders of the BlackSource ERG community to hear more about their stories and to help us understand how we can all honor Juneteenth.

Lynnette, what is your story?

Lynnette Hodges: I'd like to tell a story that I haven't told before. Most people know that I was a teacher and used Turnitin every day. But when it comes to BlackSource, the reason that I'm so passionate about diversity in the workplace is because in 1970, my grandfather was a part of building the Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower.

He was the victim of a hate crime, which resulted in his death. Two weeks prior to that, his brother was also a victim at the same location. These events, which occurred at their place of employment, completely changed the entire dynamic of my family. We lost both of our powerful male figures. All the women in my family to that point were women who worked from home and lived as housewives and took care of children. Everything changed. Here in 2023, I'm not worrying too much about being a victim of a hate crime at work. However, I do think that it matters a lot that we are looking at microaggressions, that we are making sure that there's diversity at every level, and that we're always fighting against bias and oppression.

Just fifty years ago, a hate crime that resulted in death happened during the working hours of construction on a very, very prominent building. The Sears Tower for a long time was the tallest building in the world. My grandfather laid the concrete for that building. But also, it impacted a family for generations to come. And so for me, I want to make sure that in today's workplace, at least the place where I work, we don't have those major occurrences. Granted it wouldn't be something like what happened to my family—at least I would hope not in 2023. But even a microaggression is a huge aggression to me. And that's something that needs to be addressed. I think that we address that every day at BlackSource, so it makes me really proud to be a co-leader with Nosizwe and Jimmy.

Jimmy, what is your story?

Jimmy Hudson: I'm just a small town country boy. I was born and raised in Louisiana, also known as the dirty south. I came from an area that was just just Black and White. We were raised in an environment where we knew our history. We knew America's history. I was always raised to move in a way to be safe. You know what I'm saying? I was raised with "don't be loud." Or "walk soft," so that's where I come from. Not attracting attention. Just being low key. I was also very, very smart. Which was kind of tough at home. I stood out and was treated kind of weird because I was too smart. I wasn’t like everybody else. But then when I went out, I was still looked at strangely because I'm Black.

My story is about my strength of knowledge to get where I am. I've always been able to assess the situation, whether in schoolwork, real life, or whatever the situation. I figure things out and apply a plan. I pretty much maximize every opportunity. Our goals back then were just to graduate high school. Nobody was going to college. It wasn't a requirement coming up here. I went against the grain because I went to college, which made me move, because I felt uncomfortable at home. That wasn’t what everybody else was doing. I always look for opportunities, and I look for ways to maximize that opportunity once I find it. That's how I ended up at Turnitin.

Nosizwe, what is your story?

Nosizwe Moyo: For the most part, if anybody asks me where I'm from, I probably say Zimbabwe because that's where my family's from. However, I am American because I was born here. I'm the first person in my extended family who was born here. So I identify very much as an immigrant, but also very much as an American who was raised around the world I left America when I was three months old and grew up in different African countries and I speak several languages. And I think my experience is very different. And it's different in a way that I think is important.

Jimmy and Lynnette's stories show the diversity of Blackness, because a lot of times when we think about what Black identity means in America, it is admittedly and primarily the African American experience. The difference in my story combined with theirs collectively shows the range, depth and breadth of what it means to be Black. Growing up outside of America, I experienced the world as a person who happened to be Black and whose sense of safety was not attached to my race. Even when I had negative experiences, as life does, I never had to wonder if it was BECAUSE I was Black.

The past isn’t too removed from the present when it comes to racial inequality in this country so ERG and DEIB work is essential. That a holiday as significant as the emancipation of enslaved people 158 years ago only became a Federal holiday 2 years ago still blows my mind! And that most people knew little to nothing about it is evidence of how much more work there is to do. I love that we can share and learn more about Juneteenth as a company and it is a holiday that is honored at Turnitin.

It's gonna get better. I do remember that. I hope for that.

Lynnette Hodges: The reason I left a previous company was because of these microaggressions, this racism that I had to endure on a regular basis. In my interview with Turnitin, I asked the hiring manager what the company was doing to address diversity, equity, and inclusion, because it was important to me that I had a safe space. One of the things he told me about was the communities they were building to encourage diversity, and here I am now, part of BlackSource.

What impact has BlackSource had on Turnitin?

Jimmy Hudson: The former leaders of BlackSource encouraged me to become a member, and being part of it is like a small sense of family. I didn’t realize how much the former leaders put into leading the community, and I can appreciate that now as a co-leader with Nosizwe and Lynnette. Running meetings, the exposure to leadership throughout the company. It’s a powerful thing and a great way to connect with members in the community.

Lynnette Hodges: Something BlackSource has given me is someone to listen, someone to help. There may not always be a solution—there’s no perfect answer yet—but the community makes me feel so much better. We help each other.

Nosizwe Moyo: And having that reminder that not all Black employees are in the US. That diversity of Blackness is so rich, and we can learn from it. And the community has just been really good, and what I enjoy is that it's also a professional, networking opportunity in this virtual world. Most of us have probably only or mostly worked in environments where we're one or a few Black people, and the higher up you go within a company, the harder it is to be Black and navigate the workplace dynamic. Something I think we’ve done really well with BlackSource is acknowledging our leaders, and the difficulty that it is to be a Black person in any workspace. But as a leader especially, I think, one of the things we're doing really well is networking and supporting each other.

How can we honor the Juneteenth holiday on June 19 and throughout the year and our lives?

Lynnette Hodges: I've thought about this because Juneteenth was one of those things that my family I knew about, but didn't celebrate. And then it became like this national holiday recently, like really, within the last few years. And so I said to myself, "Well, how should we celebrate it? Should everyone be allowed to celebrate it? How scandalous would it be if ‘we’ only celebrated?" Things of that nature went through my head. And what I really would like to see is folks who are or are not Black spending time educating themselves about why we are celebrating Juneteenth and why we are getting this day off. When was the original emancipation? And why did it take so long for the slaves to be told that they had been emancipated? When did this movement begin? Taking that time and really learning the importance of this day is key.

Nosizwe Moyo: And then, once we learn?

Lynnette Hodges: I would love to see people spending time giving back just like we have Giving Tuesday, where people are spending their money donating to charitable organizations that benefit Black and Brown people; where people are going out and volunteering; and spending time in communities that serve Black and Brown people. That's what I would love to see. I don't know if we're ready for that step yet, but even the education piece would be a huge part of something that we can do to really celebrate Juneteenth and understand why we are getting this day off.

Jimmy Hudson: You know, being a leader on BlackSource, I really want to offer up Juneteenth as an opportunity for us all to learn. Growing up, I had never heard of Juneteenth until I moved to Texas. So being part of this committee, what I was aiming for was to educate myself and others on what it is. The history of Juneteenth, how can we recognize it, I love that idea.

Nosizwe Moyo: I agree, and I think I'd like to echo both of you. The education piece is really, really important. There's probably a small margin of people who know about Juneteenth. It's such a new holiday that a lot of people just still don't know. And nobody knows anything about it. It is a good place for education, and how we would approach teaching people about this in the timeline of like slavery, and freedom.

Overview: Recognizing Juneteenth with Turnitin leaders

The Turnitin staff gives massive thanks and appreciation to Nosizwe, Jimmy, and Lynnette for taking the time to share their powerful stories with the team. It is due to their dedication and commitment to BlackSource that so many Turnitin employees can benefit from the support and safe space they help create. On Juneteenth and throughout the year, it is our hope to pursue education of what this day means and give back to others.