Over the past two weeks, Black Lives Matter has taken hold of the nation–along with several others–with overwhelming support. Black communities as well as their allies are calling for racial equality, an immediate end to police brutality, and an end to the systemic racism that exists in this country. Demonstrations were held in all 50 states as well as countries across the globe, marking this the largest civil rights movement in history. The scope of Black Lives Matter is undeniably vast, but the meaning behind the movement is far more powerful. Black Lives Matter is not a new concept, but the ubiquitous call for change that can be heard around the globe is truly indicative of the immediate need for that change. If your organization does not have a plan to acknowledge or celebrate Juneteenth, now is as good a time as any to consider doing so. This holiday goes beyond giving Black employees an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and acknowledge the relentless struggle to rise from slavery. It has extended into a call for the rest of the country to acknowledge the scars that slavery has left throughout the United States, and remnants of racial injustice that Black people in America deal with to this day.
The History Behind Juneteenth
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, is a celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The National Registry for Juneteenth Organizations and Supporters reports that “on June 19th  the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.” It is worth noting that June 13th is not the date of Abraham Lincoln’s historic emancipation proclamation, given on January 1, 1863. The fact that the date of the very first Juneteenth is two and a half years later than the emancipation proclamation, the speech that, for many, marks the end of slavery in the US, is truly a microcosm of the sustained racism that has continued to propagate despite past civil rights movements which sought equality for Black Americans.
Juneteenth marks a day of liberation, resilience, and fortitude for Black Americans. The injustices and pain that they suffered at the hands of white slave owners have shaped the way that Blacks operate in society and navigate a country in which non-white people have historicaly been viewed as second class citizens. Juneteenth celebrations have ranged from block parties and barbecues to city-wide demonstrations and parades.
Juneteenth is not yet a federal holiday, but 46 states along with Washington D.C. have declared it a state holiday. Acknowledging Juneteenth as a company holiday for your employees will get us one step closer to solidifying Juneteenth as a day of celebration in the minds and hearts of those who are still ignorant about its significance.
Why should you celebrate?
If there is anything that we have learned from these past two weeks, it is that people from all walks of life agree that the Black American experience has historically been one of oppression and second class citizenship. So why should your company support the holiday?
Not only does it signal to black employees that you stand with them through this tumultuous and emotional civil rights movement, but you are acknowledging to your entire community that the black experience and the struggles that they have had to endure is one worth acknowledging. It is time that white Americans acknowledge that the black experience is not something that we need to empathize with, but a symptom of white supremacy that white people need to actively combat. Give your employees the day off on June 19th, not as an opportunity to take a vacation or throw a party (not that there’s anything wrong with celebrating a glorious civil rights milestone), but as an opportunity to become a part of the movement. Attend a protest. Read anything by Angela Davis. Give your time to the local homeless shelter. Use this as an opportunity to educate your employees about a reality that may be far removed from many of them, the reality of systemic racism and pervasive injustice in our country. And while you’re at is, educate your employees on the importance of Black Lives Matter with Emtrain’s new microlesson.
Emtrain celebrates Juneteenth in solidarity with and support for Black Lives Matter. #ActionforEquality.