One of the Colts' action items in designating Juneteenth a company holiday in 2020 was creating a new staff position: The Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
Brian Richardson was hired in that role last year and will be celebrating his first Juneteenth with the Colts in 2021. And what he's seen since being brought aboard in his important role has been a genuine desire from everyone within the Colts to emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion not just externally, but internally with employees as well.
"One thing that I've been very excited about is it's very authentic," Richardson said. "I've seen other organizations, whether it's sports-related or not, that efforts related to DEI can typically be external — they'll put more emphasis there. But when you talk to the people who actually are in the building or within the organization, you don't typically see that energy matched. You don't typically see an emphasis of, we appreciate the different identities that make up our workforce.
"I think we're committed to changing that narrative here. The things that we're going to do externally will match those internally and kind of take that to a two-prong approach."
Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862 and became effective Jan. 1, 1863, but word traveled slowly and was met with defiance from slave owners in the South. Because of those circumstances, the Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the 250,000 enslaved Texans due to a small amount of Union soldiers in place to enforce the order.
There was little large-scale fighting in Texas during the Civil War, meaning Union soldiers did not have a strong presence, and many enslavers from the South moved to the Lone Star State because they viewed it as a safe haven for slavery.
But on June 19, 1865, upon arrival of Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read "General Order No. 3," which stated: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves."
Freed men and women celebrated the order, and combined with the surrender of Robert E. Lee two months earlier in April of 1965, there was finally a strong enough force to overcome the resistance to freeing slaves in Texas (even though it did not happen immediately – some enslavers withheld news of emancipation until after harvest season). "Emancipation Day," as it was first known, began being celebrated by Black communities in Texas on June 19, 1866; slavery was abolished with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
Richardson said he wants to continue to educate people on how to celebrate Juneteenth, such as finding a neighborhood or community-wide event to attend, promoting and supporting Black-owned businesses, or visiting exhibits and museums dedicated to Black culture.
"I'd like for us to view it similar to how Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been shifted toward. It's a day on, not a day off, where we utilize the day to do some form of service or to educate yourself more of the relevancy of it," Richardson said. "I think even if I am not a member of this particular demographic, why this is something that's relevant and why it's important to me."
Richardson participated Friday in a Voices Corps Juneteenth event at which the Colts donated items to swag bag giveaways. The Irsay Family Impact Scholarship — which provides financial support across four years of high school (transportation included) and four years tuition to Indiana University — recently named its second recipient.
Richardson is taking a four-pronged approach to his role, focusing on training and ongoing education, helping and supporting employees, community engagement and supporting diversity efforts. And he knows the kind of impact the Colts being at the forefront of efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion — as well as continuing to celebrate Juneteenth and educate the public about the holiday — can be.
"I think anytime we put our name on something it's going to cause waves and raise eyebrows and get attention," Richardson said. "I think the more