Now that Juneteenth is officially a Federal Holiday, more Americans are aware of the historical significance of the occasion. Celebrated every June 19, until recently mostly by African Americans, Juneteenth marks the final emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. Originating in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, Juneteenth has been celebrated across the country under a variety of names including Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, and Black Independence Day. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, but enslaved people in Western Confederate territories, including Texas, were not told about their freedom until a full two-and-half years later.
This episode of Becoming Inclusive highlights the importance of the Holiday and its significance as an important celebration for everyone, not just African Americans. Kat and Reggie were joined by Mitch Brown, a consultant for the Kaleidoscope Group, who talked about how many corporations are reaching out to ask for help in determining the best way to acknowledge the occasion for employees and customers. As a relatively new Holiday, more people have certainly heard of Juneteenth, but for many it’s still considered a celebration strictly for Black people, an erroneous point all three panelists were quick to correct. In actuality, Juneteenth is as much a cause for celebration by all Americans as it is for African Americans since we moved another step closer to fulfilling the aspirational promises of the U.S. Constitution—in which “All men (and women) are created equal.”
Helping companies devise culturally competent and sensitive ways to celebrate Juneteenth and other important events such as Pride Month, is important work done by DEI professionals that pay off in terms of employee morale and customer satisfaction. Many companies are allowing employees paid time off, hosting events like lunches and panel discussions, and a host of other things to celebrate the day. Some companies and organizations have experienced missteps because they lacked cultural insights. For example, Walmart recently had to apologize to employees and customers after social media backlash to a slew of Juneteenth-related consumer products, like Juneteenth ice cream and other items, because of over-commercialization. Similarly, a Children’s Museum in Indianapolis fell flat with a planned Juneteenth Jamboree that some thought reinforced negative and harmful stereotypes.
To sustain the momentum and passion harnessed after George Floyd, many corporate and organizational leaders really made conscientious efforts to be more equitable and inclusive. As a result, more investment has been made in DEI initiatives, but gaps still exist. As Brown said, “the interest of inclusion is never to spite someone else,” rather it’s an opportunity to learn, share and grow. Ponder took it a step further, saying “Everyone has a story to tell, and we shouldn’t be mad at people telling their stories . . . we should embrace people telling their stories.”