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Juneteenth: Honoring Black history at work

Juneteenth marks the second independence day in the United States. Although Juneteenth has been celebrated amongst Black American communities since the late 1800s, its existence and significance are not as widely recognized as the Fourth of July.

Why honor Juneteenth in 2020 and onwards? The legacy of Juneteenth demonstrates the historical and contemporary value of deep hope and urgent organizing. Its recognition and celebration acknowledges the contributions of Black folks both past and present to American society. 

Get the facts

  • Most Americans are aware of the history behind the Fourth of July. However, when the United States became free in 1776, this freedom did not include Black people and their emancipation from slavery. 
  • Black people were not officially declared free for 87 years after the United States became free in 1776. Emancipation occured two years after Abraham Lincoln’s signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the last slaves to be freed in Galveston, Texas. 
  • On June 19, 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. 
  • The holiday gained its name by coupling June and 19. The day is also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day”, “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day”. 
  • The celebration of Juneteenth became an annual one and continued to grow as tracked by Juneteenth.com. While some cities like Atlanta and Georgia have hosted parades in the past, backyard parties centred around food, community and learning are more common. 
  • In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Since, 45 other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit. 
  • As workplace DEI grows in importance, people leaders are intentionally recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth. This month, Jack Dorsey, CEO & Founder of Twitter and Square announced that they would recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday in the name of “celebration, education, and connection”. Other big names like Vox Media, Nike, and the N.F.L have also made Juneteenth a paid day off. 

What can workplaces do?

Recognizing Juneteenth at work demonstrates a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and solidarity with the Black community.

  1. Acknowledge Juneteenth both internally and externally. You can do this by circulating information on Juneteenth such as a celebratory poster, a fact sheet, a relevant article or a graphic. 
  2. Provide an opportunity for dialogue by encouraging coworkers to share articles on Juneteeth they found helpful, how they celebrate Juneteenth where possible, or what being Black means to them. 
  3. Use your social platforms where possible to spotlight Black-owned businesses and Black-led community organizations. Several lists are circulating across social media specific to location but there are also apps that can get you started. Check out EatOkra for black-owned restaurants and websites like Official Black Wall Street as well as The Nile List for a growing list of Black-owned businesses.
  4. Educate your audience through Black voices and stories. This is an opportunity to be creative and collaborative. You could host a live Q&A with a Black business owner, community organizer or influencer. 
  5. If you’re looking for historical images that you can use for your content, leverage the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture’s open access image library. If you’re looking for images and illustrations of Black people, look to Nappy. Co and BlackIllustrations
  6. Demonstrate a commitment to Black voices and racial equity by using Junetheenth as a conversation-starter with your team to develop ways in which you can support your Black community year-round. 

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