How a Black Leader Views the Juneteenth Brand as Protection for Black Culture

There was an outpouring of anger from black Twitter users last month when Walmart released its Juneteenth-themed ice cream, featuring a flavor created by New York-based company Balchem.

Spotting a trademark symbol for Juneteenth on the product label, many social media outlets criticized the two companies for trying to capitalize on black culture. But what escaped the uproar was a simple fact: someone else had claimed the term before any of the big companies could.

That person was Mario Bowler Sr., deputy principal of his alma mater, Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania.

When Biden declared Juneteenth a national holiday last year, Bowler said one of his first thoughts was that the holiday would be exploited by those who take advantage of it with “evil intent”, leading him to ask A brand.

Bowler, who had been attending black business conventions for years and toying with building a business around black food and culture, filed a trademark application for “Juneteenth Joy” last summer. Not only does the family business sell gourmet popcorn, candles and mints that symbolize black history and collective accomplishments, Juneteenth Joy also aspires to give back to the community by funding scholarships and college projects for future black leaders, while shouting milestones like new businesses or book releases on social media.

Mario Bowler with his wife, Stephanie, and their son, Mario Jr.Courtesy of Mario Bowler

“We wanted to take a protective stance — establish the business, establish a brand where we could recycle the dollars, and also professionally develop scholarships for students who want to attend HBCUs,” said Bowler, whose wife and son are also graduates from historically black universities.

Ticora Davis, a trademark attorney and founder of The Creator’s Law Firm, said trademark symbols are used to indicate that a company has applied for a trademark or intends to do so. drop one. While it was unclear whether Balchem ​​shared a licensing agreement with Walmart’s Great Value brand for Juneteenth ice cream, Balchem’s trademark application had been blocked by Bowler, who was already in the process of trademark “Juneteenth Joy,” she shared on Instagram.

Companies can still display a trademark symbol for their products even though their application is still being processed, which may explain why ice cream has a trademark symbol despite being blocked by Bowler’s existing case, a Davis told NBC News.

Bowler and Balchem ​​aren’t the only entities filing trademark applications involving the word Juneteenth. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, dozens of other filings using the term exist, including “Juneteenth Everyday”, “Big Poppa Juneteenth”, and “Juneteenth Music Entertainment”.

However, most businesses with Juneteenth trademark applications appear to be black-owned businesses, as opposed to Balchem, prompting some like Davis to express concern that Walmart’s Juneteenth-themed ice cream is an example of a company taking advantage of black culture.

The black community is “often viewed by big business as cash cows,” Davis told NBC News. “If someone can have exclusive control of a particular product that obviously will be marketed primarily to the African-American community, that would be seen as a huge financial incentive.”

Following online backlash to Walmart’s June 19 themed ice cream that highlighted Balchem’s attempt to trademark the name, Balchem ​​dropped its trademark application on May 24 using a trademark application. express abandonment.

When Walmart pulled its product from shelves in May, the company said it was reviewing the assortment and would “remove items as appropriate.” NBC News has made several requests for comment from Balchem ​​Corp. and for further comments from Walmart, but did not immediately receive a response from either company.

Many online said Walmart’s Juneteenth-themed ice cream — swirling red velvet and cheesecake — was oddly similar to a flavor from Creamalicious, a black-owned ice cream brand that also offers a velvet flavor. rouge and cheesecake labeled “Right as Rain.”

Creamalicious Founder and Chef Liz Rogers incorporates four generations of Southern recipes for unique ice cream flavors, including “Slap Yo’ Momma Banana Pudding”, “Aunt Poonie’s Caramel Pound Cake”, and “Porch Light Peach Cobbler”.

Rogers addressed the controversy surrounding Walmart’s June 19-themed ice cream during Rushion McDonald’s “Money Making Conversations Master Class,” a program that features successful celebrities, entrepreneurs and influencers. Rogers said she was unaware that Walmart made Juneteenth ice cream and that there was no collaboration in place between Creamalicious and Walmart to make the product. She also said that her “Right as Rain” ice cream flavor was different from Walmart’s Juneteenth flavor because her ice cream had chocolate chunks in it.

“I’m not involved in anything they do with respect to the Great Value brand, so it wasn’t a joint venture deal,” Rogers told McDonald’s. “It had nothing to do with me.”

After Walmart pulled its ice cream from its shelves, Rogers said it received “thousands of messages, emails, letters, just people reaching out, really wanting to support this brand.”

In the end, Davis called Walmart’s Juneteenth ice cream “tone deaf.”

Davis surmised that Walmart wouldn’t have suffered as much backlash if it hadn’t used Juneteenth in the product label and used the ice cream product to support a related cause, like Ben & Jerry’s. , which donates profits to numerous charities through the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, including Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights camp.

Davis said Walmart “could have used this as an opportunity to support a community.” An example provided by Davis is scholarships, which Bowler said he plans to help fund for black students.

Although Balchem ​​does not own the Juneteenth brand, Bowler said that begs the question of what would happen if it did. Now that Juneteenth Joy is in the final stage of the branding process, Bowler said her website will soon be launched. He also said he envisions people enjoying his products while “recognizing our ancestors in the right light.”

“For me, it’s still a big step in the right direction and we still have a long way to go,” Bowler said, “But we hope that with this brand, we’re not going to forget history, but we try to commemorate and celebrate the movement forward.

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