One year after the country saw a mass racial justice movement, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill to make Juneteenth — the date commemorating the end of chattel slavery in the United States — a federal holiday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to pass the legislation with bipartisan support. It’s in line with a number of states and localities that have made the day an official holiday in recent years, and especially last year, amid growing support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Philadelphia was among the cities to designate the day as a paid holiday in 2020, and did so again this year.
Private companies also began designating the day last year. Nike and Twitter were on the list (and also, us at Technically Media). Locally, we heard that ShopRunner, a Chicago-based ecommerce company with a local Conshohocken office, and renewable energy company Inspire had made the day an official holiday. Investigative news org Spotlight PA also gave employees the day off on Juneteenth.
We just heard from local coffee company Saxbys that it is observing the day this year and every year going forward. The B Corp will be using the time to build on its workforce development program to learn and discuss the historical significance of the day, a staffer said via email.
Jai Calloway, a senior HR consultant at Old City-based people operations firm Exude, Inc., called Congress’ legislation a “huge step in the right direction” for increasing recognition for Black people’s history in America. As Texas native, Calloway said she and her family have always celebrated the holiday.
“As it relates very close to me not only for the importance of the day but physically, geographically, it’s a part of the history I grew up knowing,” Calloway told Technical.ly. “As I am in the space of DEI, it’s important we educate ourselves on the true history and that we we know it as American history — not just Black history. It’s American history.”
Thought she’s glad Congress is finally working on designating the day as a federal holiday, she doesn’t believe it will sway resistant orgs and companies that are on the fence about celebrating or instituting diversity and inclusion work. A law changes what you obey, but it won’t change the culture without true willingness to learn, she said.
“After the summer of 2020, a lot of companies put out statements saying ‘We’re standing in solidarity with Black Americans,’ and while that’s good, a statement is just checking a box if you’re doing it because profits plummeted,” Calloway said.
But if a company is really looking to support its employees of color, especially its Black employees, Juneteenth shouldn’t be the only time of year for education. The real work happens all year in creating spaces for safe discussions, spotlighting and promoting employees of color, and using the company’s platform or channels to amplify those who don’t have a significant voice otherwise.
If your company is putting out a Juneteenth statement this year, include some resources like history-based articles, interviews, discussion panels or educational videos — and remind folks that they have the opportunity to share resources all year.
And it’s OK to not know exactly what to say or how to say it, Calloway said. That’s a large part of her firm’s work, and the work of other people and culture operations firms, especially in the last year; Exude was built to help folks navigate this, she said.
Her last bit of advice?
“If you’re sincere about this, make sure it’s not an automatic message,” Calloway said. “People know what is a template form of communication. When it’s authentic and sincere, you make a connection.”-30-