RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF CELEBRATING JUNETEENTH IN DEI EFFORTS
Juneteenth, observed annually on June 19th, is a significant holiday that commemorates the historic day enslaved Black and African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned of their emancipation and freedom, which was over 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed on January 21st, 1863.
Celebrating Juneteenth is an important holiday to honor within organizations as it demonstrates active allyship with Black and African American employees and communities. According to the U.S. Census (2022), Black and African American individuals compromise 13.6% of the population in the U.S. and make up 12.7% of the civilian labor force in the United States. Observing Juneteenth is an actionable way for leaders and organizations to acknowledge the contributions, achievements, experiences, and challenges that Black and African American people in the United States continue to face. Inclusive leaders who take this step towards honoring Juneteenth in their organizations are communicating a desire to support and acknowledge the experiences of Black Americans in their organizations.
UNDERSTANDING THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS OF SLAVERY IN THE U.S.
Between the years 1619 and 1807, approximately 388,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the colonies that would later form the United States. After the abolition of the international slave trade in the United States (1808), the number of enslaved Africans only continued to grow. Historians estimate that anywhere from 4-10 million Black and African Americans were enslaved during this time period. Determining exact numbers is challenging due to various factors such as incomplete records and undocumented enslavement.
While yes, slavery has been abolished in the U.S. for 158 years, there are still significant long-term implications that affect the lives of individuals and families that identify as Black or African American in the United States.
- Black and African Americans have higher rates of mortality from chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers compared to White Americans, resulting in shorter life expectancies on average.
- Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than pregnant women of other races and ethnicities.
- Black households comprise 13.4% of the U.S. population and hold 4% of total household wealth. While White households comprise 60% of the U.S. population, they hold 84% of total household wealth.
- Black and African American students are more likely to attend underfunded schools and have lower high school and college graduation rates.
- Black and African Americans are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system as they are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated compared to White Americans, despite similar rates of drug use and crime.
WAYS TO HONOR JUNETEENTH
In addition to honoring Juneteenth within the organization, Juneteenth provides leaders with the opportunity to support the broader community. Organizations can partner with local community agencies and non-profits to support Black and African American communities. Nonprofits such as the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) allow individuals and organizations to join their network to seek volunteer opportunities nationwide. Volunteer Match is also a valuable resource that serves the same purpose. Although the impact of volunteer work is profound, it is not the only way you can honor Juneteenth this year. See our list of additional ideas below:
01. Attend local events:
Many communities hold Juneteenth celebrations that include parades, festivals, and other events. Check your local news and community calendars to find events in your area.
02. Support Black-owned businesses:
Shopping at Black-owned businesses is a great way to support the Black community. You can find Black-owned businesses in your area through online directories like Official Black Wall Street or Support Black Owned.
03. Donate to organizations that support Black
and African Americans:
04. Learn about Black and African American
history and culture:
Juneteenth is a time to celebrate the rich history and culture of Black and African Americans. Take some time to read books, watch documentaries, or attend lectures that focus on Black history and culture.
- Juneteenth: A Novel, by Ralph Ellison
- On Juneteenth, by Annette Gordon-Reed
- The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, by Eric Foner
- The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, by PBS
- 13th, by Netflix
- Juneteenth Jamboree, by the Texas State Historical Association
Other Educational Resources
NAVIGATING JUNETEENTH OBSERVANCE:
QUESTIONS AND CHALLENGES
Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday in June 2021. Since then, more organizations have included this day in the organization’s list of paid time off holidays or ensured it can be a floating holiday. Still, many employees may question why the organization is celebrating Juneteenth. Here are some common questions and challenges we have heard through our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work at people3 on honoring Juneteenth and some sample responses you can utilize.
Slavery happened so long ago…why are we still talking about this?
Response: While slavery may have officially ended in the U.S. well over a hundred years ago and in many countries centuries ago, its impact and legacy continue to be significant and relevant today. There are an estimated 27.6 million victims of modern-day human trafficking and slavery today. Discussing slavery is essential to understanding U.S. history, addressing ongoing inequalities, advocating for human rights, promoting healing and reconciliation, learning from the past, and working towards a more just and inclusive future.
Why should I feel guilty about slavery?
My family did not own slaves!
Response: It’s important to distinguish between feeling personally guilty and acknowledging the historical and ongoing impacts of slavery. When discussing slavery, the aim is not to make individuals feel guilty for previous historical actions or to assign blame on a personal level. Instead, the focus is on understanding and addressing the broader systemic issues that still affect many Black and African Americans today.
I don’t have an issue with Black or African American people, but why do we need to set aside another day when we already have Black history month?
Response: I’m glad you are so supportive of our Black and African American employees. As an organization, we recognize the historical and ongoing struggles faced by Black and African American communities, particularly from the long-term impacts of slavery in the United States. The Black and African American community has continued to face discrimination, prejudice, and inequality, both within and outside the workplace. We empathize with these challenges and want to create a more inclusive and supportive culture within our organization.
We plan to continue honoring Juneteenth and support and celebrate with our Black and African American colleagues.
It’s great that we’re celebrating Juneteenth, but what are we doing to support our Black and African American employees daily in our organization?
Response: You are absolutely correct…we do not want this to just be a symbolic gesture. Here are some ways we are working on ensuring our Black and African American employees feel supported in our organization.
- We are ensuring our DEI policies are clear and showcase our commitment to an inclusive culture.
- We are working on increasing our representation of Black and African American team members in the organization, especially at leadership levels.
- We are being more intentional in our recruiting and promotion processes to ensure unconscious bias is not affecting our processes.
- We are exploring mentorship and sponsorship programs to support the career advancement of our Black and African American employees.
- We are also exploring other areas, such as supplier diversity to increase our percentage of Black-owned vendors, in addition to reviewing other metrics and accountability.
- We are encouraging the formation of/and or supporting Black Employee Resource Groups.
- We are committed to providing long-term diversity and inclusion education and training programs to mitigate bias and microaggressions for all of our employees.
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