Photo by Charcoal Pitch F.C founder, Mel D. Cole
New York, N.Y. (June 14, 2023) – Major League Soccer announced today “The Seeds We Plant. The Flowers We Share,” the 2023 edition of its annual Juneteenth initiative which was inspired by the art of Black artist Gianni Lee. The Juneteenth programs are a close collaboration between the League, clubs, Black Players for Change (BPC) – an independent organization of Black MLS players, coaches, and staff working to bridge the racial equality gap in soccer and society – and are a continuation of MLS’ work to bring awareness to the significant contributions of Black Americans.
To commemorate this key marker in U.S. history, MLS and BPC collaborated with world-renowned photographer and founder of Charcoal Pitch F.C, Mel D. Cole, who was tapped as the creative lead for the Juneteenth campaign. Cole selected Black artist Gianni Lee to design the 2023 MLS Juneteenth-inspired, “The Seeds We Plant. The Flowers We Share” collectible jerseys.
The 29 collectible jerseys will be signed by players and auctioned off with funds going to organizations that impact the Black community in each club’s local market. As a new addition a commemorative patch was designed to complement the 29 unique jerseys representing each individual MLS club. Fans can bid on the collectibles at MLSauctions.com.
In addition to auction jersey’s fans will have the opportunity to purchase patches and numbers on the Black Players For Change website.
“The recognition of Juneteenth is an important moment in American History and for everyone involved at Major League Soccer to commemorate freedom, honor the contributions of Black Americans to our country, and celebrate the right we all have to live a life of dignity, equality and opportunity,” said Tunde Oguntimein, Vice President, Commissioner’s Office of Major League Soccer. “This year, our League is incredibly proud to partner once again with Black Players For Change, and to collaborate with Mel D. Cole and Gianni Lee on an initiative that beautifully captures the cultural significance of Juneteenth.”
“Juneteenth is a holiday that gives us a chance to reflect on our history, and appreciate the progress we have made,” said Earl Edwards Jr., President, Black Players For Change. “Black Players for Change was established to generate change within the MLS, and it’s local communities. Since our inception, we have been working closely with MLS to accomplish our goals, and the Juneteenth jersey is another example of the incredible work we have been able to do together. With the addition of Mel D. Cole, and Gianni Lee, to this year's collaboration, we were able to take our Juneteenth celebrations to new heights and I look forward to fans seeing the final jersey.”
“When I was asked to partner up my agency Charcoal Pitch F.C with MLS for their 2023 Juneteenth campaign it was a no brainer for me,” said Mel D. Cole. “The values of Juneteenth and my agency go hand in hand; without being free there is no me! My agency tried hard to ensure that Black folks were truly represented throughout the entire process of this campaign; from getting super talented artist Gianni Lee on board to ensuring that we hired people to work behind the scenes who not only are the best at their respected jobs but understood what Juneteenth meant to them and the world.”
“Storytelling is undeniably one of the most influential modes of communication. Just like seeds, stories have the ability to propagate and disseminate information in the absence of modern technology,” said Gianni Lee. “Collaborating with MLS I was solely dedicated to exploring that concept through a Soccer jersey. By incorporating my "blue hand" motif, I aimed to narrate the tale of African cultural unity in the diaspora and illustrate how it continues to flourish, akin to a plant, within the fabric of American society each passing day. “
In honor of Juneteenth, select MLS matches will feature The Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) beginning Wednesday, June 14 and throughout the weekend’s games on June 17.
The Juneteenth initiatives in 2023 are a continuation of MLS’ efforts to drive positive social change and encourage racial reconciliation. In November 2021, MLS unveiled a series of updates and enhancements to its Diversity Hiring Policy for sporting positions with the clubs. The changes, created with a working group of club personnel, League executives, Black Players for Change and other current and former MLS players, were made to increase the policy’s efficacy, add a specific focus on the hiring of Black candidates and strengthen the policy’s enforcement mechanisms. In March 2022, MLS leveraged a historic $25 million loan from a syndicate of Black banks, marking the first time any sports league has participated in a major commercial transaction exclusively with Black banks. The partnership was facilitated by the nonprofit National Black Bank Foundation.
Through its recent Juneteenth celebrations, Major League Soccer has raised more than $300,000 for local Black impact organizations in MLS cities. The proceeds from this season’s Juneteenth initiatives will benefit organizations that support and uplift Black communities in MLS markets.
For additional auction information, including how to place a bid on the collectible jerseys, visit MLSauctions.com.