Why Should Your Company Celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It was signed into law on June 17, 2021, and it signifies the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas and the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the confederate south. Juneteenth is now a federally recognized holiday. Historically it has been celebrated on the third Saturday of June, a date which always falls in the teens, and hence the name, Juneteenth.
Juneteenth was born as a grass-roots celebration but quickly and historically spread throughout the country as a day to honor, commemorate, and acknowledge the people, stories, and persistent effects of slavery in the United States. Present-day celebrations seek to illuminate the perseverance, progression, and resilience of Black communities and ongoing efforts towards racial equity and justice. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate Black American culture. The holiday has been observed in South Korea, Japan, Italy, the UK, Guam, Honduras, Germany, Kuwait, Spain, Nigeria, Ghana, Taiwan, and France, among others.
Why should your organization pause to honor Juneteenth? Because recognizing and celebrating your employees’ cultural backgrounds can be crucial to building employee engagement, cultural competency, and collaboration. Marking Juneteenth in the workplace and your community is an excellent way to encourage cultural curiosity and historical awareness throughout your organization. Open dialogues about social inequities help develop civil, respectful, inclusive, and high-performing spaces and communities.
In the spirit of inclusion, everyone in your organization should be encouraged to participate in Juneteenth programs. It should not be the sole responsibility of your Black or African American employees to organize their recognition. Instead, you will find it is more meaningful and fun to have employees of every background participating in and learning about Juneteenth. Likewise, it would be wise to avoid the assumption that a member of your professional community wants to be involved simply because of their ethnic background.
Tips for impactful Juneteenth Programs:
Make sure your Juneteenth program is supplementary to your existing DE&I efforts. Juneteenth programs may appear performative if you are not already prioritizing DE&I at your organization. Recognize Juneteenth on your organization’s social media platforms and in your internal and external communications. You might consider sharing and celebrating wins about your Black or African American ERG (employee resource group) or highlight your supplier diversity, partnerships with Black-owned organizations, and employees who are making a difference in multicultural communities.
Create unique internal content to share educational resources, events, and virtual experiences that help to educate internal and external stakeholders about the holiday. Communicate to your employee base that you encourage their attendance, collaboration, and curiosity. If your organization observes Juneteenth as a recognized holiday, provide an internal reminder about the recognition. In 2022, Juneteenth is on a Sunday so most employees will have the day off, but if your organization is operational on weekends, demonstrate your commitment by allowing employees to take paid time off or consider making the day a company-wide day of service.
While society has systemic issues to address, remember that Juneteenth is about celebration and empowerment. Push for positive change by illuminating historical contributions, changemakers, and inspiring stories.
Be curious and learn more about the history of Juneteenth through reputable articles. Take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Museum’s Slavery and Freedom exhibition and consider participating in live-streamed and in-person Juneteenth celebrations. Consider engaging an external speaker or organizing a panel of experts to speak to employees about civil rights and other critical topics surrounding the Black American experience.
In addition to promoting Juneteenth events being offered within your local community, engage your team to learn in an ongoing and self-paced way. Be sure to consult curated lists of books, movies, podcasts, and resources that may help challenge yourself to broaden your perspective on Black history and experiences.
Juneteenth should be more than an annual occurrence on your organization’s social media page. Instead, look for ways to connect with your local community and engage in corporate social responsibility to make a positive difference. Consider donating to a worthy organization and volunteering with local nonprofits or charities to address ongoing needs in nearby communities of color.
Provide ongoing support to underrepresented communities all year long by committing to increase your supplier diversity. The Small Business Association’s Minority-Owned Business Directory is a great place to start, or you may consider hiring a dedicated DE&I partner to help you develop a robust supplier diversity strategy. By intentionally directing your purchasing power in this way, you help strengthen local Black economics, which in turn helps to shrink the racial wealth gap and foster job creation for people and communities of color.
Additionally, seek out ways to support community restoration and policy reform. Lending your support as an organization shows your commitment. You will often see that your community actions will inspire increased engagement and a sense of belonging in the workplace. Explore Volunteer Match for a vetted list of local organizations that can help you make a sustained community impact.
Perhaps the best way to honor Juneteenth is by strengthening your allyship. Practice active inclusion and work to build a truly inclusive workplace culture by seeking out and listening to the vast perspectives of all the people you are trying to include. In other words, reach out to Black leaders and employees who are moving the needle at your organization and ask for their input on how they would like to be recognized, both on Juneteenth and beyond.
Use your privilege to benefit others, and remember that intersectionality (the idea that every human has multiple, overlapping identities) is an integral part of understanding DE&I. No community is monolithic, and a vast range of identities and experiences exists within the Black community.
Organizations that invest the time in celebrating diverse and multicultural holidays in mindful and intentional ways also communicate to their employees, clients, and customers that they care about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The relationships built and the actions taken in observance of Juneteenth can create sustainable benefits beyond June.
At all turns, seek to promote inclusion and to belong while counteracting both conscious and unconscious bias. Leverage Juneteenth to build understanding, awareness, and competency about Black history, accomplishments, and culture, and focus on your organization’s sustainable cultural performance. Juneteenth commemorates a pivotal moment in American history and should become a part of your annual organization-wide programs.