Acknowledging and Honouring Juneteenth in the Workplace

Juneteenth, a distinctive holiday to the United States (US), was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. As a result, many organizations have integrated Juneteenth into their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to honour this historic day. 

Given its profound significance for social justice and equality, it is crucial that celebrations strike a balance between purpose, relevance, and engaging employee participation. In doing so, organizations ensure their events are meaningful rather than performative. 

Let’s delve into the significance of Juneteenth, and explore meaningful ways for your organization to celebrate it.

What is Juneteeth?

Juneteenth, also known as June Nineteenth, commemorates the second independence day in the US. On January 1, 1836, a proclamation was made at midnight declaring the Emancipation Proclamation effective and legally freeing all enslaved people in Confederate States. Subsequently , the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, institutionalized emancipation as a national policy, officially ending slavery throughout the US. 

However, the Emancipation Proclamation could not be enforced in regions still under Confederate control, notably in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that enslaved people in Texas gained their freedom, commemorated as Juneteenth, when approximately 250,000 slaves were liberated. 

Following this, the Reconstruction period (1865-1877) witnessed formerly enslaved individuals striving to rebuild their lives in the US. They endeavoured to reunite families separated under slavery, establish schools, and participate in politics. As such, Juneteenth symbolizes hope, self-determination and resilience.

Juneteenth in the Workplace

Juneteenth celebrations today resonate with themes of equality, social justice and the resilience of the African American community, commemorating historic achievements while advocating for continued progress. As previously discussed, any celebrations held in the workplace should have a clear purpose and objective that must be communicated to attendees. 

Highlighting the significance of Juneteenth and communicating why it is important to honour it in the workplace serves as a reminder of the struggles and triumphs of the Black community towards freedom and equality. To maximize impact, carve out space during the event for facilitated dialogue and reflection. Encourage open conversations, questions and conversations around the themes of Juneteenth, promoting understanding and empathy among participants. Through these strategies, cultural celebrations can contribute positively to the cultivation of an inclusive and respectful work culture.

Here are a few impactful ways to celebrate Juneteenth in your workplace.

Host a Juneteenth Workshop and Training

Incorporate a Juneteenth-specific workshop in your education and training strategy. Explore the historical context of Juneteenth and its contemporary relevance for the Black community. Connect themes of Juneteenth with discussions on anti-racism, or microaggression training, empowering allyship and providing employees with actionable strategies and takeaways. Follow up the workshop with additional resources to encourage ongoing education and allyship.

Dive into Juneteenth Stories

Engage employees through storytelling by organizing a Juneteenth-themed book club. Select literature that explores the themes and experiences surrounding Juneteenth, such as ”The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed, or “Four Hundred Souls” by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, to name a few. Create a safe space for thoughtful discussion and the sharing of diverse perspectives.

Taste the Foods of Juneteenth

Many communities celebrate Juneteenth with gatherings highlighting soul food traditions such as barbecues or seafood boils. Consider hosting a company picnic with catering from a Black-owned restaurant, and incorporating educational elements about Juneteenth cookouts. Embrace the Juneteenth tradition of including a red food item, symbolizing the holiday’s significance, such as red velvet cake.

Engage in Philanthropic Efforts

Embrace your local community by offering employees coupons or gift cards to redeem at LGBTQIA2S+-owned businesses. Alternatively, host a company lunch catered by LGBTQIA2S+-owned restaurants, and foster a sense of belonging within your broader community. Let’s uplift these businesses while fostering a culture of inclusivity.

Final Words

Juneteenth holds cultural importance within the Black community, but as a nationally recognized holiday, its history and significance are relevant for all. Observing Juneteenth in the workplace in a meaningful manner fosters a culture of inclusion and respect among employees. 

Nevertheless, DEI efforts must continue during the rest of the year. DEI professionals should consistently seek feedback from Black employees on their sense of inclusion, belonging and support to evaluate the impact of their DEI efforts. This ongoing dialogue enables organizations to continually improve, ensures that the voices of all employees are heard, and DEI policies create environments in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Juneteenth Workshops

Honour the path to freedom and recognize Juneteenth through meaningful dialogue and actionable steps that reinforce the importance of diversity and inclusion. 

Our team will tailor workshops to suit the needs and strategy at your organization.


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