Admittedly, I didn’t know what Juneteenth was until I became an adult. It wasn’t part of the curriculum at any of the schools I attended and, unfortunately, my parents were never taught about it, either. As this year’s Juneteenth approached, I asked a few of my fellow Black professional friends if they had plans for the holiday, and many shared that this year was the first time they had heard of it.
For those who aren’t familiar, Juneteenth is a holiday that dates back to 1865. It commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. For more details, explore Juneteenth.com.
Over the past couple of years that I’ve been aware of the day’s special meaning, I’ve never been able to give it proper attention to celebrate, mainly because I didn’t make it a priority. Celebrating the Fourth of July has always been easier and more widely accepted.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, coupled with the back-to-back-to-back killings of Black people that have gone viral, I’ve learned that some of the most painful times in life can be the most pivotal. As a result, my outlook on Juneteenth is very different this year.
In my role as a public relations professional, I work with a variety of colleagues and clients with different beliefs and backgrounds, and it felt taboo to discuss the topic of celebrating Juneteenth. Exhausted from wrestling with these thoughts, I opted to be bold – while shaking and trembling – and requested to take the day off.
To my surprise, the request was welcomed, and our agency’s leaders embraced taking the extra step of making Juneteenth an official company holiday. And we’re not alone: Thanks to the rise in popularity, Best Buy, Twitter, Target, and dozens of other large corporations recently announced that Juneteenth is now a paid company holiday.
In honor of my ancestors and the allies who fought for justice, I’ve made a personal commitment to educate as many people as I can and to speak up whenever I can. Because this is not about Black history, this is American history.
To help, I brainstormed a handful of ways that individuals and agencies can honor the day and celebrate the millions of enslaved Africans who played a major role in building this country that we enjoy today.
Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth Now and in the Future
- Heart check: Take a moment of silence to reflect and realize any areas of prejudice or racism that may be in your heart. Write it all down and make a plan to address it with trusted friends
- Make Juneteenth a paid company holiday
- Release a video from your leadership addressing the company’s stance on social injustices and equality
- Start at home. Explore the history and meaning of Juneteenth with your family
- Attend a local event and bring a colleague or friend
- Encourage your local house of worship, if you have one, to celebrate and honor the day
- Use your social media platforms to amplify the day with facts and background information about Juneteenth
- Shop at local Black-owned businesses during the entire weekend, and beyond
- Explore these books (note that many are sold out right now) and watch these movies
- Consider starting a book club within your company to make this learning experience collaborative
My great hope is that this isn’t merely a blog post, but that the information it provides can act as an ongoing to-do list that encourages you to learn. To become uncomfortable. And to do meaningful work that can change the trajectory of your life, your workplace, and those around you.
Thank you for reading and exploring the many ways to celebrate with your family and your colleagues. I’d love to hear about what you’re learning and sharing, and what your company is doing to have intentional conversations about race and social justice.