Black History Month — first celebrated in 1970 and official since 1976 — was conceived as an opportunity to honor the much-neglected accomplishments of Black Americans. In the final installment of our three-part series, ten Black Levi Strauss & Co. employees from a range of departments talk with colleague Charis Marquez about identity and a corporation’s role during Black History Month (and every month) — and how much further we have to go.
Judith Lerebours (Store Manager, Levi’s® Plaza Store)
“Knowing the struggles and contributions of those that came before me is huge. And that’s a pride that I take with me all the time. I think about the impact I have as a store manager: What impact can I have on my stylists and with my leadership team? I try to be very transparent about my own career path. I want them to walk away feeling empowered about what they can do.”
Tricia Young (Manager, Levi’s® IT Business Systems)
“Black History Month means identity. It means a realization that we have a history that has evolved from a not-so-good start and has developed in ways beyond the measures of our ancestors.
But in our 400 years or more, we’re still having firsts — you know, it’s still ‘first Miss Universe,’ etc. Until we can just be acknowledged for who we are and not be identified as ‘firsts,’ Black History Month is still very relevant.
Over time, I’ve learned to accept who I am, and not be so ready to prove that I belong, and just understand that I do. I think that’s really what helps me have impact as a woman of color: this is who I am and this is what I’m bringing to the table.”
Sarah Negron (Finance and Grants Coordinator, Levi Strauss Foundation)
“I think it’s really important for a corporation to acknowledge it as a heritage month; make an intentional effort to see its employees of color and see its Black employees. Historically, corporations and for-profit enterprises have been part of the problem in terms of the setbacks Black people have experienced.
You see that in things like redlining, which led to the disenfranchisement of Black communities that once were really booming — and now they don’t exist anymore. We’re in a day and age when corporations are starting to play more of a role in the social impact space, and tie their profits to principals.
I think a corporation can find ways to uplift Black employees. Find ways to recruit and tie in diversity inclusion. If you don’t have a diverse workforce, you don’t have diverse ideas. And Black people are huge consumers and a huge part of the development of pop culture, so be sure to include Black voices in the conversation.”
Joel Massiah (Key Account Senior Merchandise Planner, Levi’s® Wholesale Planning Team)
“I think there’s a hunger today more than ever to have the story of what it means to be American addressed in a more realistic way, and less in the fantasized way that we grew up learning in school.
A lot of people look at brands today, look at businesses, and wonder: What is their connection to the community? Whether it be climate change or women’s suffrage or equality. I think people just want to know that corporations are trying to be philanthropic in some way or be in step with the overall.
We just want to know that you’re actually connecting with the people that you’re selling your products to. And if you have a platform that’s a big business, how are you making the world a better place?”
2020 is LS&Co.’s third year sponsoring The Forum on Workplace Inclusion, the most known of Diversity and Inclusion Conferences. In 2010, building on earlier initiatives, we launched Pioneers in Justice, an initiative supporting next-generation leaders of San Francisco civil rights organizations.
The sayings on the custom tees featured in this shoot were chosen by each individual. Look to see if your local Levi’s® store offers this service, or use our online service to create your own message tee for Black History Month.
Interviews conducted by Charis Marquez, Levi’s® Head of Wholesale, Digital, and one of the executive sponsors for Project Onyx Employee Resource Groups.