This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Corey Anthony, AT&T’s chief diversity and development officer. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Corey Anthony is AT&T’s chief diversity and development officer. AT&T
I grew up in the really small town of Jewett, Texas. It’s very rural, very country.
My family and I celebrated four major holidays, and if I had to rank them, I’d say Mother’s Day would be at the top — it’s by far the biggest holiday in the community. Then there’s Christmas, then Easter, then Juneteenth.
We lived about 25 minutes from Mexia, Texas — and for years, they had one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the country. We’d go down to Booker T. Washington Park and there were two parallel themes happening at the same time: On one side of the park, in the tabernacle, there would be church going on. Folks would sing hymns like “Nearer, My God, to Thee” and “Amazing Grace,” especially in the context of freedom and justice. Then on the other side, there was a DJ set up and we’d be having a party, celebrating Juneteenth and listening to Bobby Brown.
It was a multigenerational, multifaceted experience with fried fish, red Shasta soda, barbeque pork sandwiches for $3, and sock-it-to-me cake.
The lessons of Juneteenth and its roots in freedom and justice are enduring and very relevant in America today and at the corporate level. I’m the chief diversity and development officer at AT&T, and we do a lot of work inside the company to raise awareness about cultures and experiences that are unlike our own.
The virtuous cycle
We encourage our employees to seek out different experiences from their colleagues through conversation because we believe that’s one of the best ways to facilitate the most effective working relationships, which helps performance and helps us win in the marketplace. It’s a virtuous cycle.
We also spend time learning about the true history of this country. Our team created an internal resource and website for employees called “Listen. Understand. Act.” that hosts podcasts, movies, and books specifically related to culture and diversity. While we celebrate the fullness of our history, we’re also making sure to learn about the truth and not just the narratives that we’ve been told. There are facts and there are narratives — we make sure we know the facts.
I’ve always been a proponent of our employee resource groups (ERGs), having cofounded a chapter of AT&T’s African American group The NETwork. Our ERGs have an important role in the company because that’s where employees can demonstrate their personal alignment to AT&T’s commitment to diversity.
Also, our employee groups are the “human resources” behind AT&T Believes, our local, employee-led model for uplifting communities. Through these volunteer initiatives, ERG members have worked to reduce gun violence and high unemployment in Chicago, support underserved youth in St. Louis, improved services for the homeless in Dallas, and reduced digital inequities in Portland.
The wisdom of elders
At home, I try to replicate my Juneteenth experiences growing up as much as I can with my two kids, both teenagers
We celebrate it even when we can’t drive the two hours from our home in Dallas to my hometown. When you set aside the fun — because there’s a lot of fun when you’re around a few thousand people listening to Bobby Brown — the most important thing about Juneteenth is the lessons that you get at the feet of the elders. They’re always the focal point of these celebrations.
That was one of the really cool things about Juneteeth: sitting around hearing stories from my own parents, who both went to segregated schools. Stories about slavery were passed down through the generations, and so I try to replicate that for my kids. These lessons reminded us that we could never take steps backward. We always have to be moving forward, always progress. These lessons reminded us to reflect.
Progress, not perfection
AT&T isn’t perfect by any stretch, and we’re not where we want to be, but we can acknowledge the success we’ve had as a company. At the end of 2020, our US workforce was made up of nearly 46% people of color.
We’ve partnered with organizations like OneTen and Girls Who Code to build a pipeline of diverse talent for the technology industry. Internally, we’ve launched several programs and resource groups to support the career development of our employees from diverse backgrounds, including the Executive Black Leadership Experience (EBLE), Women of Color (WOC), and Executive Latino Leadership Experience (ELLE).
Last year, we were honored by DiversityInc. for our efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’re in its hall of fame, and yet we share with our employees on an ongoing basis that there’s still a lot of work that we have to do to eliminate any and all inequity that exists in our business. And a lot of those inequities represent the same themes that Juneteenth recognizes.
We have to celebrate the progress that we’ve made as a country, and we have to keep working as vigorously as our ancestors did to resolve the issues that remain.