Juneteenth is a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth falls on June 19th and has been celebrated annually in various parts of the US since 1865. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979. In June 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday, which President Biden signed into law on June 17th, 2021.
For Juneteenth, Cincinnati Consultant Anuja spoke to Phoenix Consultant Herve Mathelier, who has been at SEI for about two years. After growing up in New York, he went to Boston and Raleigh before moving to Phoenix with his wife Michelle and kids Lola and Miles two years ago. He talks about his source of inspiration, what Juneteenth means to him as a Haitian American, and what keeps him hopeful for future generations.
As a Haitian, what does Juneteenth mean to you?
As much as Juneteenth is a time of celebration, it is also time for reflection – what things have been like and what could be better. It gives me time to think through our shared history, ancestral bonds, and how far we have come as a unified Black diaspora.
What has been the hardest to communicate or explain about your point of view? With everything going on right now, what scares you and what keeps you hopeful?
The trauma of what’s happening around you is hardest to communicate. To have to go through your day ‘normally’ while being an immigrant, man of color, and a father is difficult when you are wired to work hard and deliver. I tend to always overexplain, especially in my corporate career, because (a) I feel like I have to, and (b) I don’t want anybody to misinterpret what I’ve said.
My fears always relay back to my two mixed-race children – how to prepare them to live their lives, help them understand the world, and be aware but not fearful. I am hopeful that the coming generations will find a way to continue to accept different cultures. I see a higher level of tolerance and acceptance in my kids and the younger generation now too. I have tremendous hope in the youth and the current discourse.
What hurdles have you faced throughout your career that you’ve had to navigate to be successful and grow to your potential?
I have never had a Black teacher in my formal education or a Black leader in my working career, so I didn’t have somebody who looked like me to look up to. It was harder to connect with my teachers or organizational leaders because I felt they didn’t resonate with me. I had to search a level deeper to make connections and work as hard as possible to grow because that’s something nobody can take away from you. I have wondered how things would’ve changed if I had Black teachers or teachers familiar with the household I grew up with, i.e., a Caribbean immigrant household.
How would you like SEI to support you and other Black colleagues as well as the community? What part of SEI’s focus on equity and inclusion are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the openness and willingness to engage in conversation related to DE&I. Company and leadership know we aren’t going to solve problems in one day, but they are providing the space to build upon what we have to ensure that DE&I is in the fabric of our culture. No organization is perfect, but I appreciate that our efforts are not lip service – we are doing legitimate work to guarantee we have an inclusive and equitable work environment.
One of the aspects of SEI that drew me to it is having a seat at the table. Once you walk through the doors, you are a respected contributor and a partner, and your voice is heard. While interviewing with SEI, it felt like a true merit-based organization and hearing and feeling it has been a breath of fresh air.
Our ownership model lends itself well to equity and inclusion. Once we get to SEI, it is equitable, but there is still work to do on diversifying the talent pool. We need to consciously expand our circles and talk to people we don’t usually talk to or go places we don’t usually go. As a recruiting lead, I ask myself if we are in circles that would bring in diverse talent. People want what we have, i.e., a tangible stake in the business, a collaborative team, and a place where they are merited based on their contributions. We need to put ourselves in a position to share that with a wide variety of groups.
Who has been your source of inspiration personally and professionally? What is the one thing you’ve learned from them that you abide by?
My dad is my inspiration. Being the oldest of five siblings and the first to come to the US from Haiti at 23, he supported his family and helped them transition to the US. He taught me the importance of hard work, relationships, and keeping your word. I would say the most important thing I have learned from him is the significance of community and relationship building. When he moved here, he and others fostered a strong community that still thrives today. They supported each other, and that community is an integral part of how they found success in this country. He always taught me that you must treat others how you want to be treated, and I hold that very true.