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Juneteenth: A Celebration of Progress

President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17th, 2021, making Juneteenth a federal holiday. In the U.S., Juneteenth is a day of incredible significance, yet it’s one that has only come to widespread prominence in recent years, with more conversations about racial justice and Black American history. Companies and individuals alike (particularly those in management positions) should have an idea of what Juneteenth is – and isn’t – and why it’s so important to recognize.


The observance of Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to re-inform and enforce the emancipation of all formerly enslaved people – many of whom had no idea that they had been legally freed two years earlier. Texas was one of the last ex-Confederate holdouts, where emancipation was not enforced until the Union army entered in sufficient numbers. In the years following, formerly enslaved Black Americans and their descendants gathered on this day to observe, remember, and honor their stories, both as a celebration and as acts of resistance to ongoing white supremacy.


In the past several years, there have been movements to observe Juneteenth on a broader scale, as part of an ongoing push to recognize these parts of American history and foreground voices that have historically been sidelined. As part of your company’s efforts to build a stronger, more inclusive company culture, prioritizing support and observance of Juneteenth can be one of several steps, with HR leading the way.


When you work as a team, you are more effective when you have a culture that fosters shared purpose. One cornerstone of shared purpose is empathy and understanding, along with the maturity to recognize everyone has a unique history and view of the world.


Or to put it another way, if an employee thinks it is important to celebrate Juneteenth, support them – especially if you want people to step up and help your organization be the best it can be.


Symbolic gestures, such as support for the observance of Juneteenth or other dates of significance, are a great way to make a statement about your company’s values, but they ring hollow if your actual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives don’t reflect those same values the other 364 days of the year.


DEI is about everything from big-picture items to small details and all the things in between, and it’s important to consistently learn, get feedback, and improve. As President Barak Obama said, “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress.”

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