Three Ways to Honor Juneteenth Within the Workplace
What is it?
Juneteenth, short for “June Nineteenth”, celebrates June 19, 1865 when Federal troops arrived in Texas to secure freedom for enslaved African Americans there. In response to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamations two years prior, slave owners moved their slaves south to avoid its enforcement. While Juneteenth did not mark the end of slavery for all enslaved African Americans (as some slaveholders withheld information regarding emancipation until after they had exhausted the services of their slaves), it stands as a celebrated day of independence for many within the African American community.
Honoring Juneteenth Within the Workplace
In June 2021, the Biden administration made Juneteenth a national holiday. It follows, then, that this year many more businesses have looked to mark the holiday for the first time. Given many American workers are just newly being introduced to Juneteenth, it is even more important for businesses to make it a point to both acknowledge and highlight the holiday.
What does it look like to celebrate Juneteenth in the workplace? We offer some suggestions below.
Deepen your Understanding
It’s sometimes uncomfortable to place oneself in conversations centering on diversity concerns – it is much easier to generalize and interact with the information at a distance. This Juneteenth, we challenge you to do more.
The simplest way to achieve this is to move past general knowledge about racial issues and find ways to personalize it. For example, instead of simply reading a blog or post about racial issues, host a conversation amongst colleagues concerning the ways in which racial issues present in your workplace.
Dig deeper – instead of reading about how White descendants engaged in racial violence, soul search and discover the ways that you might be presently complicit in some of the racial concerns.
Leaders who do this encourage the rest of their teams to also take steps towards open and vulnerable conversations about race.
Personalize the Holiday
It is true that Juneteenth signaled the true freedom of African American slaves in the South. It also paved the way for previously unavailable opportunities that had been available to White Americans for some time.
What better time than the celebration of Juneteenth for companies to review their DE&I initiatives and goals? How can your company commit to or revamp its DE&I initiatives? How can you increase access and opportunities for Black professionals within your field?
Additionally, consider monetary support to Black initiatives and for Black-owned businesses. While the sentiment is a start, financial support is a tangible way to effect lasting change.
Conversations on diversity and inclusion can be difficult; although much less difficult than the traumatic lived experiences of the minorities on which those conversations often center. Mere conversational difficulty should not prevent companies from doing more. The potential danger in celebrating Juneteenth is complacency (as though the DE&I work for the month or year has been completed).
Instead, businesses should look to celebrate diversity in all forms. Yes, celebrate Juneteenth… but also take the opportunity to celebrate other sources of diversity within your workplace. Do not let a Juneteenth celebration become a token or a missed opportunity to continue the important conversations of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and beyond.
By: Niwa Babayemi