The Coleman Foundation’s Office Was Open on Juneteenth – Here’s Why

Taylors Tacos 2023

Juneteenth has been gaining awareness since Congress passed legislation in 2021 to establish Juneteenth National Independence Day as our nation’s newest federal holiday.  Although this declaration came poignantly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, widening the recognition of an often overlooked piece of American history, the Black community has marked Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, with parades, barbeques and family picnics for generations. Now that every state recognizes June 19, either as a public holiday or a day of observance, we’re seeing official acknowledgement of it in the workplace. Some organizations commemorate it with company-wide DEI programs, or a day of service tied in to learning more about Black history.  Many others, especially in the non-profit sector, close their offices and offer it as a paid day off to their employees. Here at the Coleman Foundation, we go to lunch.

Let me share how we established this tradition. In June of 2021, I had been serving as the CEO of the Foundation for just over seven months. Juneteenth was not one of our paid holidays. As the first woman and the first person of color in this position, and the only Black employee at the time, I hesitated to make a “big deal” out of a day grounded in such a painful chapter of American history. Instead, I circulated an article about Juneteenth’s history, shared links to local celebrations, and led an informal discussion during that week’s staff meeting. That may have been the right first step, but it was unsatisfying to me, personally and professionally.

Later, reflecting on the significance of Juneteenth, I thought about how the essence of the day is a celebration of Black economic freedom and opportunity. I considered that part of our mission at the Coleman Foundation is to invest in community-based organizations to strengthen the economic well-being of people living in the Chicago region. Specifically, our grantmaking in the area of entrepreneurship seeks to advance small business ownership with an emphasis on low-and-moderate-income Chicago neighborhoods. Many of our grantee partners support Black business owners and the development of Black businesses.  Realizing the deep alignment between this day and the programs we fund confirmed my feeling that the best way for our team to commemorate June 19 was to directly support Black entrepreneurs.

To that end, we started a new tradition in 2022: a staff lunch at a Black-owned establishment in the week of Juneteenth. Employees can opt to take PTO on June 19 if they want to spend the holiday in their own communities, but we designate a day in that week to gather in fellowship outside the office in the neighborhoods where our grantees work. Celebrating in this way also allows us to support an entrepreneur who is overcoming barriers to establish and grow their business. Most importantly, it provides a chance to meet with, listen to and learn from the entrepreneur directly.

Staff at Carver Juneteenth
Coleman Staff, Monica Haslip, Lizz Wright, at Carver’s 47, June 2022

This year we went out to lunch at Taylor’s Tacos on the near West Side, the only Black-, queer- and woman-owned business of its kind in Chicago. Owners Taylor Mason and Maya Mason were kind enough to share their journey with our staff. We were riveted to hear how they met, fell in love and learned how to work together to grow their businesses.

Inspired by her time spent on California’s southwest coast, Taylor discovered her passion for the local cuisine’s flare and the power of building community through food. She returned to Chicago in 2015 and began selling her street tacos for the soul at pop-up events and at artist collectives for a dollar each. With signature offerings like extra-juicy chicken, sexy crispy shrimp, and sweet poppin’ potato, Taylor was selling out fast; lines wrapped around the corner and demand skyrocketed as the word spread.

Taylor met her future wife and creative director Maya while establishing the catering business. Together, the Masons have built three separate businesses: a catering company, a commercial event venue, and the taco shop. A portion of their proceeds supports their non-profit, Tacos Create Community, which provides food for community-based gatherings.

Taylor and Maya credit some of their success to entrepreneurship training and to the resources provided by business support organizations (BSOs), which Coleman programs support. With access to space, the Masons were able to scale the catering business through the use of a commercial kitchen. With access to technical assistance, they were able to navigate the city’s licensing requirements and available capital. With access to networks and mentorship, they were coached and advised on operational and strategic growth and introduced to key contacts. After eight years in the business, Taylor says mentorship is still her number-one need.

Talking with Taylor and Maya about their day-to-day challenges as entrepreneurs while enjoying their amazing tacos was an enjoyable and meaningful way for us to celebrate Black economic empowerment.  We literally put our money where our mouths were, and it was delicious.

I was heartened to see so many articles and posts about the different ways organizations chose to commemorate Juneteenth this year. However you decide to honor this day next year and moving forward, I encourage you to include supporting Black-owned businesses as part of your tradition.

Coleman Staff and Taylor Mason, Taylor’s Tacos, June 2023
Coleman Staff and Taylor Mason, Taylor’s Tacos, June 2023

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The Coleman Foundation, Inc.
20 N. Wacker Dr. Suite 3410
Chicago, IL 60606
Phone (312) 902-7120
Fax (312) 902-7124

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