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Religious leaders in Columbus urge local businesses to support Black Lives Matter movement

Updated: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - Friday is Juneteenth, which marked the official end of slavery in the United States.

This year’s commemoration has a different feeling around it because of recent tragedies across the nation, including the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks.

Large companies like the NFL have admitted their wrongdoing and are sharing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Religious leaders want to see that same sentiment from companies locally.

“We have not arrived yet,” said Reverend Dr. Ralph Huling. “There are things that are left undone and if they’re going to be done, it’s going to have to be done by the church.”

Juneteenth 2020 marks the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States. But according to religious leaders, there’s still a lot of social progress left to be made.

“But we come today to decree that even though we’re no longer enslaved, that we still are not free,” Huling said.

One thing several pastors said needs to be done during a time of social unrest is an open dialogue with major companies.

“We’re seeing all the major corporations across the country, the NFL saying we’ve been wrong. We have not been listening. We need to do a better job of working with the African American community. But in Columbus, Georgia, we’ve been silent. Our corporations have been silent and the silence is deafening,” Huling said.

Elder Edward DuBose said the passion and energy following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks needs to stay strong instead of reverting back to the old cycle.

“An incident happens, we get in the street and rally, time passes, everyone goes back home until the next incident,” DuBose said.

The goal behind these religious leaders meeting Friday was not only to celebrate Juneteenth, but to challenge corporations and organizations to gather together in support of black lives matter.

“Ever since I was born, I knew that white lives mattered, but do white people realize that black lives matter? And that’s what we’re saying on this Juneteenth. That we might be able to make a better community that our children, our grandchildren, all of the people of this great city would be able to thrive,” said Huling.

The pastors are hoping today’s press conference starts a conversation with local companies about the Black Lives Matter movement.

News Leader 9 reached our to a couple of local companies, and they are both acknowledging the importance of this movement.

Synovus representative Lee Underwood said:

“Our CEO, Kessel Stelling, offered a public statement about systemic racism that you can read here. Today, in recognition of Juneteenth, we’ve given all team members an additional day of paid time off -- a “Day of Purpose” – that can be taken for activism, educational opportunities, volunteer efforts help others, or in any way that connects their purpose with meaningful action. And we have a long, long history of supporting the Black community and interests through our business and philanthropy.”

Statement form Aflac U.S. President Teresa L. White

“Aflac has been a leader in the fight for social justice for 65 years, including today. We don’t just support Black Lives Matter in words, but in deeds. Our workforce is 40% African American and nearly 50% minority. Our Board of Directors is 30% African American and we have had African American representation on our board since the 1990s. We have African Americans at the highest level of leadership, including our General Counsel and President of Aflac U.S. We were the first company to provide $1 million for the building of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. and more than 50% of our philanthropic expenditures in 2020 are earmarked toward African American institutions and causes including $1 million to Morehouse School of Medicine to study the opioid crisis in rural America and $1.5 million to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center’s Sickle Cell program. In fact, just today, thousands of employees were invited to celebrate diversity and inclusion as we paused for a social justice day of action. We continue to financially support the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington and the local and national NAACP. Aflac opposes any form of bigotry, intolerance or disrespect in our society and any suggestion that our company does not support the national movement for social justice, ending racism and promoting racial harmony is inaccurate.”

Here is a video that Aflac employees have been posting on their social media pages Friday, which was part of the Social Justice Day of Action.

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