(Photo by Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license)
On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army read federal orders in Galveston that proclaimed all enslaved people in Texas were free. While it marks the end of slavery as a practice in the U.S., it’s important to note that this came two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
The event has resonated in the Black community for the 155 years since as a day to commemorate liberation. Juneteenth is celebrated as a holiday with festivals, parades and reflection. It is widely celebrated in Texas and commemorated with events in communities like Baltimore around the country.
Yet the holiday that offers a reminder that slavery wasn’t uniformly ended throughout the country remains unevenly recognized. When it comes to official status, it has been recognized by 43 states like Maryland, which made it a state holiday in 2014. But is not a national holiday. This year, as protests push the nation to reckon with systemic racism of both the past and present following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police, more official institutions are honoring the day.
Big employers are among those making Juneteenth a company holiday. In the realm of the tech companies, founder Jack Dorsey said last week that Juneteenth will be a holiday “forevermore” at Twitter and Square. He said it would be a day for “celebration, education and connection.”
— jack (@jack) June 9, 2020
In Baltimore, the local NFL team will also mark Juneteenth. The Baltimore Ravens said employees will get a day off, with president Dick Cass saying in a statement that it is “an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and on how far we have to go.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) June 17, 2020
At Johns Hopkins, Friday will be a half day, as the university is closing at noon. The Baltimore region’s largest employer will also host a series of events kicking off at 11 a.m. Check out the thread below for the full lineup.
— Johns Hopkins University (@JohnsHopkins) June 17, 2020
On Thursday, investment firm Camden Partners and the Warnock Foundation, which is chaired by Camden founder David Warnock, announced that they will close on Friday to observe Juneteenth this year, and going forward. The Inner Harbor-based orgs are also matching employee contributions to social justice orgs this month.
Juneteenth is also becoming a permanent holiday at Hampden-based Tuscany Strategy Consulting, said managing partner David Long.
And Technically Media, which is the parent company of Technical.ly, is commemorating the holiday with a day off on Friday. Read our full reasoning for doing so, but consider this salient point: While the idea to recognize Juneteenth had been discussed in past years, CEO Chris Wink worried that adding the holiday this year would look too reactive to the moment. But as VP Vincent Better, who grew up in Baltimore, put it: “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
At edfintech company Allovue, Juneteenth has been informally recognized in past years. But this is the first year it will be a formal holiday for the company, with time off for education and reflection. CEO Jess Gartner said the Remington-based company “should have made it a holiday a long time ago,” but did so this year after she saw a suggestion on Twitter.
“We are encouraging the team to take the time off to reflect on ways we can eradicate oppression and inequality through our work,” she said.
Sharing as an idea for other organization-leaders:
Today we announced that Juneteenth (June 19) will now be an official company holiday. Since we have been doing 4-day weeks, this year we will observe the holiday on June 18 & 19. Thanks @alicegoldfuss for the inspiration.
— Jess Gartner (@jessgartner) June 8, 2020
The holidays a company celebrates can reflect its values. Marking the days that are commemorated by members of a diverse team is a measure of equity. For those considering Juneteenth, Gartner encourages reflection on where the holiday fits with broader company policies and ongoing practices that support equity and inclusion. This follows a move several years ago to repurpose Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day, and Gartner said the company will continue to reflect on how holidays it recognizes reflect company values.
There’s also room to educate the community and empower team members to lead. At Allovue, Desmond Seymour is taking the lead in organizing resources to share with the team, and external messaging.
“I was empowered to assist in strategically addressing this discussion by sharing resources with our teams, such as discussions between Angela Davis and Jane Elliot, resources that are child friendly and infographics,” said Seymour, the company’s implementation specialist.
Seymour also worked with others to craft a companywide out-of-office message. In the interest of sharing resources, here it is in full:
The Allovue team will be out of the office today and tomorrow (June 18th & 19th) to commemorate Juneteenth, the day in which all slaves were made aware that they were free.
On June 19, 1865, America took a step in the right direction towards living up to its greatest potential. Allovue is committed to taking steps to honor the continuous march towards equality and will be out of the office during this time in order to reflect, further educate ourselves, and identify ways we can eradicate oppression and inequality through our work. We will return on Monday, June 22nd, and look forward to speaking with you then. If you are interested in learning more about Juneteenth, I have provided an additional resource here created by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.”
For health IT company Audacious Inquiry, diversity is a company value. And the Baltimore-based company is a B-corporation, so it is structured to use business as a force for good. As it adds Juneteenth as a company holiday this year, the company is also giving to organizations that a diversity team within the company selected, including Baltimore Action Legal Team and Civil Rights Corps, said AINQ Manager Michelle McCoy. Along with internal action, McCoy said valuing diversity also means demonstrating how they are working in the community.
“We believe given the importance of this moment and the movement, it is appropriate for us to take time for reflection, rest and spending time with family,” McCoy said. “We are committing a $10,000 contribution to organizations that are working each day to advance the causes of justice and equality.”
Finally, following the lead of the University System of Maryland, many local public colleges such as University of Maryland, Baltimore, UMBC and Towson University are recognizing the day, as well.
In recognition of Juneteenth, classes are canceled Friday (6/19) and it will be an administrative leave day for all faculty and staff. https://t.co/QDXaztsGjR
— Towson University (@TowsonU) June 17, 2020
Beginning at noon on Friday, we are offering administrative leave for the remainder of the day. Summer classes scheduled to be held after 12 p.m. will be canceled in observance. Full details and suggestions for how to commemorate the day on myUMBC. https://t.co/bgpErahHTY
— UMBC (@UMBC) June 18, 2020
In recognition of #Juneteenth , we are granting administrative leave beginning Friday at noon. If you plan to take administrative leave in observance of Juneteenth, it may be taken only on Friday, June 19. Please communicate with your supervisor about your plans.
— University of Maryland, Baltimore (@UMBaltimore) June 18, 2020
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