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The history of Juneteenth – and how to honor it this year

Cornerstone Editors

On June 19, 1865, news that the Civil War was over reached Galveston, the capital city of Texas. A brief statement, General Order No. 3, was read aloud. It went like this:

The order freed the enslaved Black people of Texas, marking the end of official slavery in the US. The tradition of Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteen) began June 19 of the following year.

Despite the historical significance of Juneteenth, it took until June 16, 2021 for President Joe Biden to sign a bill into law, recognizing it as a federal holiday in the United States.

Why learning is an essential part of Juneteenth

According to research from Deloitte, educational opportunities outside of the standard unconscious bias training are key to driving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts. Making sure employees understand the history of Juneteenth and the history of being Black in the United States is important for your DEIB efforts because it serves as a reminder of Black Americans’ ongoing pursuit of racial equity and justice.

“Being an ally is critically important in this work,” Duane La Bom, chief diversity officer at Cornerstone, said in a recent blog post. “Sometimes allies feel as if they’re supposed to have all the answers, and it’s the exact opposite...An ally is supposed to listen, learn and leverage their strengths and privilege to help when it makes sense.”

Celebrating Juneteenth this year

Organizations have moved a little faster than the federal government when it comes to recognizing the significance of Juneteenth. In 2020, 48 major organizations made Juneteenth a permanent, paid holiday, including major companies like Spotify, Twitter and Lyft.

In addition to giving employees paid time off to celebrate Juneteenth, employers can encourage their people to acknowledge the holiday in other ways.

  • Pull together a list of ways to support or donate to Black Lives Matter movements or other anti-racism initiatives in their local communities
  • Coordinate with local, online Juneteenth events (like festivals, poetry readings, online celebrations or protests) and encourage your employees to attend

Remember: When celebrating Juneteenth at your organization this year, there are also 364 other days a year where you can take action to better support your Black employees and the Black community.

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