• Lisa Fedrizzi

Juneteenth & The Employee Experience

History has moments in time that make you pause and think, how could this happen? June 19, 1865 is one of those moments.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, the news of the Proclamation did not reach enslaved African-American people in Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865. As you can imagine, this was surely met with jubilation and surprise, given the 2+ years it took for this news to reach them.

As the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of legal slavery in the US, this was initially celebrated predominantly by the newly-freed people in Galveston. The following year, freedmen and freedwomen organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19 in Texas. Over time, the annual celebration spread across the rest of the US, focusing on education, history, culture, pride and more.

So, I am sure you are wondering what this has to do with the employee experience. Over the last year, we have seen many companies and organizations look at the different ways to observe the holiday. So, how can you honor Juneteenth in the workplace?

  • Closing for Juneteenth is certainly an option. However, this is such an important historical and cultural holiday that decisions to close in observance of Juneteenth should reflect an authentic drive toward diversity, equity and inclusion.

  • Training! Learn how to be a contributing ally, gain an understanding of nuances between cultural appropriation and celebration, bring in guest speakers to guide these important conversations.

  • Have your ERG sponsor a workplace activation, and continue this for other commemorations for people of color.

  • Foster reflection and giving: Have a volunteer day with your team to give back to local communities and find a meaningful way to observe the day.

  • Hold a town hall meeting to discuss your DEI plans. Juneteenth symbolizes more than just freedom, it’s important to ensure employees that race, religion, sexual identity and gender will never be barriers to their growth and success. Foster the sense of belonging!

  • Encourage courageous conversations in the workplace, which will help continue your DEI efforts for a safe space for all.

  • Celebrate and recognize the contributions of your African American and Black employees, leaders and stakeholders.

  • Have a lunch and learn with your team and watch the virtual tour from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Slavery and Freedom exhibit.

  • Watch the video as the Museum's Founding Director Lonnie Bunch III leads a tour through the Slavery and Freedom exhibition to celebrate Juneteenth highlighting stories behind some of their most popular objects, including Nat Turner's bible, freedom papers of free African Americans and a Sibley tent that housed African Americans who ran from Southern plantations in search of freedom with the Union army.”

Create a place of belonging for all employees. Not only will you show the importance of their experience, you show that they matter and you show that their history matters. Having an ERG is not enough, you must continue to build out and evolve your diversity, equity and inclusion programs and activations. Observing and recognizing Juneteenth in the workplace solidifies the organization’s commitments to its mission, vision and values and continues to promote a diverse, inclusive place of belonging for their employees.