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All In Musings: Havas New York’s Head of Integrated Production Discusses the Importance of Juneteenth


Melissa Tifrere, Havas New York’s head of integrated production, provides an important look into the deep meaning of Juneteenth, and gives us insights into how we can all continue to grow as allies

All In Musings: Havas New York’s Head of Integrated Production Discusses the Importance of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, despite having its roots in the 1800’s, might feel like a recent addition to our yearly calendars for many Americans. Though Black/African American folks have been commemorating this time long before now, it was only recently that Juneteenth (a.k.a Freedom Day) was officially cemented as an American federal holiday. 

Melissa Tifrere has taken the time to walk us through what Juneteenth means to her, Black/African American folks, and all Americans. As well as the crucial importance of remembering our history, honouring our past, and fighting for our future. 

Necko Fanning, Director of DEI, Havas New York (NF)> Thanks so much for agreeing to chat about Juneteenth. To start off can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do for Havas?

Melissa Tifrere, Head of Integrated Production, Havas New York (MT)> Of course, thank you so much for the chat. I oversee the production departments at Havas NY and Annex88 NY. This means anytime a client-brief turns into a script and is sold to the client to be made into content, my department comes in and helps facilitate the actual creation of that work. I have a group of amazing producers that manage the timelines and budgets, while working closely with the creative teams to help find the right directors, editors, and photographers to bring the work to life. Basically, we make words and key-frames on paper into something real and impactful. 

(NF)> I didn’t know the process could be so involved. Very cool! So, for a lot of folks who aren’t Black/African American, Juneteenth might seem like something new. In reality, it’s been a day of remembrance and sober celebration for quite some time. Can you explain what is Juneteenth?

(MT)> “Juneteenth”, is a mash-up of the month June and the 19th day. It’s recognised and celebrated as the day slavery ended in the confederate states in 1865.  On this day the Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a day that has been widely recognised in Black/African American households for some time, it's only just being recognised on the federal level as a holiday. It's sad but all the very tough and heartbreaking events happening to the black community in 2020, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement seemed to have finally led to some recognition. A holiday is far from enough but it's an important reminder about representation. 

(NF)> That’s really sobering to hear. Thanks for giving us that context. I'm wondering if maybe you could explain further about the significance it has within Black/African American communities? What significance does it hold for you?

(MT)> Juneteenth is a day of remembering our ancestors and reflecting on their lives, their existence, and all the sacrifices they were forced to make to help build the United States of America as we know it. It's celebrating their resilience and pride despite living under unimaginable cruelty and oppression. It's a reminder of the strong culture, traditions, and community they were able to form.   

For me, it's a day to honour all the slaves that came before and after Juneteenth and, as a cultural collective, actively acknowledge their lives mattered. They were forced to build this country, the cornerstones of which we still see today, and a horrific majority have never been praised or recognised for their sacrifices. It’s important we, as Americans, remember how much we owe to our Black ancestors.

(NF)> How would you recommend folks who aren’t Black/African American celebrate and commemorate this day?

(MT)> I would recommend that everyone use Juneteenth as a day of reflection and remembrance. Slaves played a massive part in contributing to the building and early success of the United States as a country with no recognition or reward, while being forced to endure the torture, dehumanisation, and death of slavery. 

I think everyone can use Juneteenth to be mindful of what liberty and freedom means to them. I mean, think what it must have felt to learn after 100's of years of slavery, barely recognised as human, that you were finally free? No one should ever be able take away another’s ability to live freely; it’s part of the foundation our nation is built upon. Juneteenth is a reminder that this foundation exists regardless the color of your skin; freedom is a fundamental right that everyone is entitled to.

(NF)> It’s kind of great that Juneteenth takes place during Pride Month. Statistically, we know that Black queer folk experience struggles that their non-Black queer peers typically don’t. Do you think Juneteenth should serve as an opportunity for these communities to reaffirm their allyship towards one another?

(MT)> Absolutely. Being discriminated against because of the color of your skin or your sexual or gender is terrible. Our communities won't accomplish the changes we seek unless both the queer and black communities are united in their aims to uplift and support another. Together, we are always more powerful than apart.

Additionally, I still hear people use the word “tolerance"; personally I dislike the word. It seems it's used often as a comfortable way for people to continue holding prejudiced views of people that are different from them without making any changes to their thoughts, beliefs, or even actions. Black and queer people don’t need tolerance. It’s our right as humans, as Americans, to be accepted for who we are, unapologetically. It’s important we move away from this idea of tolerance and start focusing on ensuring people feel safe and supported enough to simply exist in their skin. We need to make sure people feel empowered to take up space and be ourselves or we will never advance equally as a society. I'm here. We're here. And it’s past time to accept and celebrate that so we can build a beautiful future.

(NF)> I couldn’t agree more! Thanks so much for taking the time to dig into Juneteenth! Part of our commitment to the folks of Havas is to keep pushing education and engagement as a means of allyship. Would you mind providing a resource, perhaps a book or movie or podcast, that you’d recommend folks listen to become better allies to Black/African American folks?

(MT)> Yes, absolutely. I highly recommend a podcast by the New York Times, “1619”, which explores the history of slavey in the United States.  Also, the book, "Why are all of the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria" by Beverly Daniel Tarum, Ph.D, is a book on the psychology of racism and aims to help guide readers in an open dialogue about race. Oh, and "Black Magic" by Chad Sanders, which is a compilation of honest and informative interviews with black leaders from multiple disciplines. I mean, really any books written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and James Baldwin, too. They’re pretty fantastic!


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Genres: Storytelling, People, Documentary

Havas North America, Wed, 22 Jun 2022 07:09:00 GMT