Juneteenth is an important day in American history—and it’s becoming more and more widely celebrated in the workplace by many employers, including the federal government.
How can your company recognize Juneteenth and celebrate it in a way that’s authentic, inclusive, and supportive of your broader diversity efforts? We’ve got a few ideas.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a day celebrating the historic moment in 1865 when the last enslaved people were freed by Union troops in Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it wasn’t until federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas almost two and a half years later that every enslaved person was actually freed and slavery truly ended.
It’s also known as Jubilee Day, or the real Independence Day, since it marks the date when every person in the U.S. became free. And it’s celebrated on June 19th each year.
Today on Juneteenth, the day we celebrate the end of slavery, the day we memorialize those who offered us hope for the future and the day when we renew our commitment to the struggle for freedom.
- Angela Davis
The history of Juneteenth
Juneteenth became much more widely known in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against police brutality in 2020. And it was declared a federal holiday in 2021.
But celebrations of Juneteenth go back more than a century in Black communities across the U.S. They have taken many different forms over the years—gatherings, barbeques, educational events, and more.
As the case for increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace has grown stronger and more urgent, Juneteenth has become a more popular corporate holiday as well. But taking this celebration from the community homes and parks where it began into the corporate world means taking care and planning thoughtfully.
Meaningful ways to celebrate Juneteenth at work
Celebrating Juneteenth in your workplace can come in many forms. Acknowledging and honoring this holiday can mean giving opportunities for rest and relaxation, of course. But there’s also an opportunity to go deeper and celebrate in a way that advances your commitment to DEI as well.
Many companies have started to give employees the day off as a paid holiday, which is a positive step. But it’s not enough by itself to contribute to your organization’s diversity efforts.
Your company could give your celebration more purpose and relevance in many ways. Here are a few of our favorite ideas—feel free to mix and match with whatever works for your employees!
- Sponsoring or suggesting visits to Black and African-American museums or cultural sites in your area.
- Making a stronger commitment to your diversity and inclusion goals by creating a strategy to build DEI at work, or announcing more ambitious goals for the future if you already have one.
- Sharing updates with employees about what your company and leadership team are doing to increase diversity and inclusion, both within the company and in your broader community.
- Allowing employees to choose a non-profit in your community that the company will make a donation to in honor of the holiday.
- Bringing in a guest speaker to talk about the many issues still facing the Black community in the U.S. today, or to shine a light on lesser-known accomplishments and proud moments in history.
- Decorating the office with a Juneteenth theme and holding a celebration with refreshments and an explanation of what Juneteenth is and why it matters.
Wondering what your employees really want your company to do to honor Juneteenth? Ask them directly!
Employee feedback and data gathering is a critical component of an effective DEI strategy in the workplace, and this holiday is no exception. Asking employees what they think, and listening to and acting on that feedback, shows them you value what they have to say.
Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible—and there is still so much work to do.
- Barack Obama
Your Juneteenth celebration efforts should tie back into your overall commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
After all, if you simply give employees a day off but don’t make any changes in how you operate the other 364 days of the year as an organization, your Juneteenth plans won’t seem authentic or genuine to employees.
Finding ways to further your diversity work throughout the year, such as celebrating Black History Month with meaning and removing bias from the hiring process, will make your Juneteenth celebrations to come even more powerful.
Everyone in your organization, from the leadership team to managers and beyond, should be truly committed to your company’s values and enabled to translate those values into action. Recognizing Juneteenth, and celebrating it in a meaningful and thoughtful way, is a great place to begin.