Employees weigh in on Black history in 2022

For Black History Month 2022, we asked some Viasat employees their thoughts on significant moments in Black history from the past year


Counter-clockwise from left: Viasat employees Kevin Turner, Constance Farmer, Dwayne Wilkes, Cynthia York and Gerald Brewer

Juneteenth an acknowledgement, but work remains

Kevin Turner | Duluth, GA

To me, the most significant event in black history in 2021 was Juneteenth officially becoming a federal holiday. Juneteenth and its formal commemoration were both landmark moments on America’s path to living out its creed.

As wonderful as that is, there is even broader significance. Ever wonder why we celebrate Juneteenth and not Emancipation Day? The Emancipation Proclamation was the legislation, but Juneteenth, nearly three years later, was the fulfillment of it.

Juneteenth is an acknowledgement that teaches us that an official declaration or a law being passed is not the same thing as putting it into practice. The Emancipation was absolutely necessary and was a huge momentum swing in the right direction, but slavery didn’t end overnight. It was a long time after the law was passed for the last Black slave to be freed.

There’s an important lesson here. While well-articulated visions about equality, diversity, and inclusion are important to align ourselves with a more equitable future, it is the arduous work that ensures that future that will be celebrated.

In the aftermath of the George Floyd situation, Viasat issued a statement to “reaffirm our commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion.”

Black History Month is a good time to revisit this statement. I think issuing it coincided with a momentum swing. We’ve seen new employee resource groups chartered, diversity councils formed, and minority speakers brought in to address some uncomfortable topics. I like where we’re headed, but the road is long.

So, as I reflect on Juneteenth and what that means to me, I see it as a call to action. How do we take our D&I (diversity and inclusion) statement and continue the work to make it a reality? Personally, I took the challenge and got involved with our Black Professionals Alliance in Duluth. That’s probably the easiest thing we can do. Find an ERG and ask, “How can I help?”

Kamala Harris an inspiration

Dwayne Wilkes | Carlsbad, CA

One of my highlights from 2021 was getting to watch as Sen. Kamala Harris became vice president, the first woman and woman of color to do so in America.

As the eldest of three children, I try to be a good role model for my brother and sister. But in my experience, seeing yourself reflected in those you wish to emulate helps the goal seem more obtainable. I hope that this representation continues to open those internal doors we close when we think things aren’t for us. These are the key moments to reflect on for Black History Month -— not just for the importance of the past event, but for what it can mean for the future.

We can all learn from Black history

Gerald Brewer | Denver

History, if you are willing to learn from it, is supposed to make you acknowledge the mistakes of those before you (if not your own) and motivate you to make changes for a better future — and not just for those you identify as “your” demographic.

Therefore, I will focus on something good. As of 2021, Juneteenth is a national holiday! Juneteenth marks the month that Texas was forced to officially adhere to a federal law that abolished slavery (this law went into effect years earlier) and therefore emancipate slave laborers. Some would say that Juneteenth is the second Independence Day, although for many Americans, it is our first.

Constitutionally, slaves were regarded as “three-fifths of a free individual.” So until June 19, 1865, Black slaves were essentially not considered fully human. Sadly, even today many Americans still perceive other Americans as less than a full human, as evidenced by the way we treat each other.

I find it particularly disturbing when Americans choose to opt out of supporting the equity of people outside their demographic. I myself have been guilty of this, and sometimes am moved to tears when I remember the things that I have done and said that were anything short of promoting the best intentions and success of all people. Some things we can’t take back. But by no means do we have to continue that norm because it’s what is expected, or because if we can fortify the status quo, it somehow turns out better for the demographic we’re most concerned with.

All Americans should not only acknowledge but celebrate Black History month, even if it makes them ashamed of the actions or inactions of their ancestors. Americans should acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as his selfless acts broke down innumerable barriers for many races, creeds, and colors. Americans should acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth, the result of President Lincoln’s acknowledgement that neither slavery, its mentality, nor its residue has any place in the future of America. If we sing that God “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea,” then Americans must endeavor to be that good brother, that good person, to all people.

Black female CEOs a step in the right direction

Constance Farmer | Duluth, GA

Black History Month is not only a reflection of the accomplishments, struggles, and triumphs of Black Americans, it represents a running illustration of progress, resilience, and the subsequent forward movement of an entire culture.

In March 2021, Rosalind Brewer became the first African American female CEO of Walgreens and the third African American woman in history to reach the chief executive officer position. Thasunda Brown Duckett became the fourth Black woman in history to serve as a Fortune 500 CEO two months later, making them the only two Black female CEOs on the current Fortune 500 list. Together, they represent a remarkable moment in Black history and an intentional step towards closing historical achievement gaps in wealth creation and career progression.

While industry has made significant adjustments to recruiting and retention strategies to increase female representation within their employee pool, there remains a scarcity of women in senior-level positions. When it comes to African American women, there is a glaring underrepresentation and underutilization of their valuable skills, lived experiences, and unique perspectives in the C-suite.

This phenomenon warrants exploration and empathetic understanding into the intersectional challenges associated with being both African American and female. Genuine diversity application goes beyond recruiting. It is the deliberate inclusion of ‘representatives of the underrepresented’ in decision-making processes and positions.

The addition of Brewer and Duckett is not only a positive swing in momentum, but an welcome addition to Black history.

Abery’s mother showed courage

Cynthia York | Denver

Of all the significant moments in Black history of 2021, the most poignant for me was the conviction of Ahmad Abery’s killers and the way Ahmad’s mother conducted herself at the conclusion of the trial. Wanda Cooper-Jones showed great courage, heart, and composure under unthinkable stress. We have never met, but I think of her often. I am thankful my mother never had to seek that kind of justice for me or my sisters.