Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th and commemorates the date in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger told people in Galveston, Texas about President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. President Lincoln had actually signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in 1863, however many southerners sought to evade the executive order by forcibly moving enslaved people to Texas, the most Western of the slaveholding states.
Union troops pursued them and arrived in Galveston in the summer of 1865, finally freeing more than 250,000 Black Americans.
Enslaved people were formally emancipated, and slavery officially abolished by the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
In 2021 President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making June 19th a Federal holiday.
The holiday not only commemorates the end of a horrific period in American history, it also 1) symbolizes the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality, 2) celebrates and draws attention to the incredible achievements of Black Americans who have shaped history, 3) highlights the resilience of Black Americans who continue to fight against the bonds of racism and advocate for systemic change, and 4) reminds us that the fight for equity and justice for Black Americans continues to wage on even today.
The struggle against racism is still felt at both the individual and systemic levels. Hundreds of years of racism did not vanish overnight with Juneteenth or the Civil Rights movement. We each have a role in working towards equality.
As a non-black ally, I found myself understanding the importance of the holiday but was unsure how to commemorate it appropriately. How could I actively participate in Juneteenth celebrations in an authentic way? What could I do beyond the celebration?
I wanted to learn more and be a stronger ally personally and professionally – beyond a weekend celebration.
My first step was getting involved in supporting the holiday by volunteering with “Juneteenth New York City” for the 14th Annual celebration in Brooklyn titled “Kaleidoscope of Black Culture” .
This 3-day event included concerts, a fashion show, a virtual summit, a “In Celebration of Black Kings” awards ceremony honoring 28 Black men from NY for their impact in the community, a day of kids’ activities, a field day, food trucks, Black-owned vendors, and more. I had registered to help on the third day of the event – which took place in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
The organizers I primarily worked with included three passionate and inspiring women: Shantel, Tyisha, and Mel. They were amazing! They ensured everyone was organized and informed of all the details prior to the event so there was no confusion on location, roles, expectations. During the event Mel was my go-to and she was perfect at answering any vendor, food truck owner, or participant questions that came my way. She also kept me focused on tasks from greeting and directing, to helping ensure the drum core team and the models for the fashion show were taken care of. And all three women were high-energy, passionate and very motivating!
The event was well-attended and there was much joyous celebration of the Black community. Because I volunteered on Sunday I was able to enjoy the DJ, hear inspiring speakers share prayer and stories, hear beautiful traditional songs, watch a fashion show, speak with a host of Black-owned small business vendors who were selling fabulous crafts, and watch an amazing young adult/teen drum core team perform. It was such an inspiring day!
As much as I enjoyed volunteering and celebrating at the event, I want my ally-ship to extend beyond a single day.
Juneteenth is great for awareness but emancipation did not instantly fix inequality for Black Americans. There is much to do to help increase equality across all groups of people in America!
From discussions with Black friends and colleagues, and through extensive research, here are some suggestions for meaningful steps and actions we can take personally (within our community) and professionally (within our workplaces) to support the Black community, bring change, and continue to boost racial equality for all.
I am also including at the bottom of this article some informative websites to become an informed, proactive ally.
I’ll be looking to expand my involvement through some of these!
As an individual:
- Support Black-owned businesses – Get to know the black-owned businesses in your community.
- Truly reflect on the essence of Juneteenth and what it means for Black Americans. Learn why the holiday has profound importance to them and their lived experiences. Respect the purpose – approach it with reverence and understand it is a time for Black Americans to honor their history, celebrate freedom, and reflect on the ongoing struggle for racial equity.
- Celebrate alongside the Black community, honor the heavy history, embrace empathy as a mindset of understanding, and embrace the joyous spirit of this holiday. Juneteenth is a time for Black Joy, fellowship, and achievement – actively engage in the festivities and foster a spirit of celebration. Celebrate the achievements of Black individuals and the Black community while acknowledging the pain and impact of history extending to today.
- Foster learning! Use Juneteenth as an opportunity for personal growth and education. Reflect on the holiday’s historical significance and deepen your understanding of its cultural importance. Listen to the stories and experiences of Black Americans. Visit Black/African American museums and cultural centers in your city/town.
- Move beyond general awareness to personal action. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom AND a celebration of opportunity. Read books by Black authors. Support Black non-profit organizations (financially, volunteering, etc.) and Black-owned businesses.
- Stay aware of existing inequities and help fight to end them. For example, for two centuries our educational systems greatly neglected the Black American experience. “A 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Oberg Research revealed that U.S. history teachers spend only 8 to 9% of lesson time on Black history, and research suggests that what is taught centers on the trauma of slavery, the struggles of the Civil Rights movement, and mass incarceration, instead of more positive features like the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migration, and the myriad achievements and contributions of the Black community.” (1) How can we change the conversation?
At your organization/workplace:
- Educate yourself about DEI topics such as racial injustice in the workplace.
- Support Black team members by having them in the room during meetings (internal and client) and on teams making important decisions. Give them a voice (from business to politics).
- Sponsor networking and training opportunities in Black communities and then hire from within those communities to help revitalize them economically.
- Set meaningful DEI goals which create an environment where Black employees can thrive, are fairly compensated and promoted based on their value to the organization, and feel safe and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. Address any disparities they may face. Fund resources and initiatives that expand promotion and leadership opportunities for Black and brown employees.
- Ensure the organization takes a firm stance against racism and systematic inequity and clearly communicates the company’s anti-racist values, backing them up through actions and policies that promote diversity, equality, and inclusion.
- Bring in speakers and provide educational resources that facilitate learning and dialogue around the history, significance, and ongoing struggles related to Juneteenth and the Black experience in America. African American history has long been distorted and it is an opportunity for truth to be shared.
- Actively promote diversity in leadership, challenge outdated stereotypes of what a leader should look like.
- Support and recruit at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).
- Celebrate Juneteenth as an organization – give employees the day off, encourage them to visit African American/Black cultural sites, bring in a speaker to share their experiences, actively foster dialog about the holiday and what it represents.
A last point for consideration when thinking about Juneteenth:
We should resist any urge to downplay the need for the holiday under the thought that it’s unfair to highlight the experience and injustices of one group when others have experienced different injustices.
Instead, lean into the holiday and encourage using the power of empathy to acknowledge the experience of this particular marginalized group – enslaved Black Americans, and what their liberation meant for the country – and continues to mean today (the possibilities and opportunities as well as a humbling of the country from a horrible experience). Focus on progress made and what can come in the future and what that kind of progress means for us all.
There is room for everyone at the DEI table, and when we advocate for change, it inherently raises everyone up – creating a more inclusive environment for all. We should celebrate bringing many different perspectives and experiences into what what binds us together as a country, and focus on how bringing equality to all will create a resilient, creative, healthy, and powerful America of the future.
Notice any of the action steps suggested in the lists above can easily translate to any minority group. Helping one group will help all.
Here are a few good sources of materials for further exploration of Juneteenth, the Black experience, and the impact of Black Americans on our country:
Celebrating African American and Black heroes that shaped America from National Geographic:
Extensive materials for all ages, individuals and organizations can be found on the website for the National Museum of African History and Culture at the Smithsonian:
Teach for America has wonderful resources including teaching resources, videos, and books: https://www.teachforamerica.org/celebrate-juneteenth
Perdue University’s on-line resources include interviews, podcasts, recipes and more: https://guides.lib.purdue.edu/juneteenth/online-resources
If you have resources you can share, please submit them in the comments.
To learn more about Juneteenth NYC you can check out their FaceBook Page at:
Or you can check out their website where you can learn more and donate to support their programs:
Hope you enjoyed this week,
- (1) Washington, E. F., & Sanders, J. (2021, June 17). How Your Organization Can Recognize Juneteenth. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved June 19, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2021/06/how-your-organization-can-recognize-juneteenth