Though it is only one part in the greater work of establishing a just and equitable world, observing important dates centered around the history of enslaved people is essential to understanding the present-day landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Acknowledging the horrors of chattel slavery in the United States means recognizing the global conditions that upheld the practice, and confronting how the effects from that system exist to this day. Paradoxically, it also provides an opportunity to savor and celebrate moments of joy in Black history.
Juneteenth, observed annually on June 19, is a key holiday that focuses on Black liberation and freedom.
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865 — two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order to end slavery — the last enslaved African Americans were finally freed. As a significant date in U.S. history, June 19, also known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day, is an occasion to reflect on and honor the Black experience.
Although it was only recognized as a U.S. federal holiday in 2021, many Black communities across the nation have observed the day for generations.
How is Juneteenth traditionally celebrated?
Juneteenth is traditionally celebrated by emphasizing joy and community. The holiday is typically commemorated with food, festivals, and pilgrimages to Galveston, Texas, where emancipation was announced to the last enslaved people in 1865.
Juneteenth festivities feature hallmarks of other summer celebrations in the state, including eating barbecue, participating in parades, watching fireworks, rodeo shows, and competing in calf-chasing contests. During these festivities, many sip on red drinks, a tradition that honors the perseverance of and blood that was shed by Black Americans.
Ultimately, like other holidays, there is not one right way to celebrate Juneteenth. For some, the day consists of shopping at Black-owned businesses, spending time with loved ones, and resting at home.
The common thread throughout all Juneteenth celebrations includes an observance of Black freedom.
How to honor Juneteenth in the workplace
To tap into this communal observance from the workplace, companies can provide employees tangible opportunities and resources to uplift and celebrate the Black community.
Here are several powerful ways to observe Juneteenth at work.
1. Organize a DEI discussion. Partner with your Employee Resource Group (ERGs) to organize a discussion that centers on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s a good idea to hire a specialized DEI facilitator, who can help conduct productive conversations about belonging and racial equity in the workplace.
2. Provide information. Offer access to talks, webcasts, and other resources to encourage employees to learn about racial justice issues. Include information that focuses on how your company is actively responding to DEI issues internally and in the community. Be sure to provide avenues for employees to voice ways to support DEI in the workplace, too.
3. Host a Juneteenth celebration. If you’re located in an on-site or hybrid office environment, consider hosting a Juneteenth celebration. Try ordering food from a local Black-owned business, and encourage your employees to connect over delicious eats.
4. Support a nonprofit. Invite your team to donate to or volunteer for a nonprofit organization that serves Black communities – and commit to match or supplement their efforts.
5. Create space. Provide a platform for Black leaders to speak to your employees in order to inspire them about creating positive community change while teaching them about navigating challenges and securing success.
6. Share skills. Harness your employees’ professional insights, experience, and knowledge to mentor Black jobseekers interested in your field of work or industry. Mentoring young people can help enable and inspire the next generation of change-makers.
7. Encourage rest and reflection. Give your employees the day off! Now that Juneteenth is a national U.S. holiday, it’s commonplace for corporations to close on Juneteenth. In addition to encouraging workers to spend time with loved ones, it signals to employees and customers that Black joy is celebrated and honored in your organization.
Juneteenth: A joyous way to support Black communities
Juneteenth is rooted in horrific injustice. But the holiday is also a celebration of freedom that has bloomed into a nationwide opportunity to both remember a crucial moment in history and also tangibly support Black communities.
Companies are poised to make an impact by harnessing their resources, reach, and the robust talents of their employees. Whether you choose to celebrate Juneteenth by sparking an important discussion in the office or volunteering in your community, when corporate teams honor Juneteenth, they not only tap into the joy of Black freedom but also help protect it year-round.
Reach out to Visit.org to learn how your team can celebrate Juneteenth with social impact.