Juneteenth has officially become a federal holiday and companies across the U.S. are beginning to embrace the day celebrating Black American’s freedom.
Adobe, Uber, Google, and others recognized the holiday last year, and this year more companies are joining them with President Biden signing a bill declaring Juneteenth a national holiday.
Juneteenth, first celebrated on June 19, 1865, marks the day slaves in Texas were told that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Though enslaved African Americans were freed in 1862, those in Texas were not aware until 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union army rode to Galveston, Texas, to deliver the news.
“Now that Juneteenth has become a federal holiday, there is more awareness which is good but what do we do with that,” said Jaclyn Ferguson, a campus recruiter for Publicis Media. “How can we make this holiday matter and actually help Black people who have had these generational setbacks because their ancestors were enslaved.”
Last year, after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, several companies began acknowledging Juneteenth by giving employees the day off to heal and reflect.
A lot of people think that the Civil War ended slavery, but that’s not what happened, explained Ferguson. A lot of these inequalities that people think are gone, aren’t and Juneteenth being recognized as a federal holiday will force more people to acknowledge the realities of inequality in this nation.
“Everyone should know the history of why we now have this day off and it would be nice for companies, especially larger corporations, to have service days set up,” said Ferguson. “Managers should look into creating events for their employees to go to during Juneteenth, that way it’s built into the culture and employees don’t have to find them on their own.”
With protests occurring during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were thrust into an uninterrupted lesson on the realities of being Black in America. Now that Juneteenth is recognized federally, the conversation will continue even though the pandemic is mostly over.
Corporations such as Nike were ahead of the curve, having acknowledged the holiday last year.
“Nike is amazing at capturing the moment,” explained Nike Product Line Manager Brenton Nickerson. “When George Floyd died the company and country were in a messed-up position, Nike took a pause to give their Black employees the opportunity to observe a holiday that is important to them. They knew we would all benefit from learning about and the programming for Juneteenth.”
Last year, Nike’s Black Employee Network organized talks, programming, and even a party with DJ D-Nice to celebrate Juneteenth, said Nickerson. “The BEN group has done an amazing job of having fun with, as well as educating about, Juneteenth.”
The siege of the U.S. capital on Jan. 6 showed America that there are people who truly believe in these violent ideals, says Nickerson. The event proved that there is still much work to be done.
“We’re Nike, there is no such thing as a finish line,” said Nickerson. “I would like to see us continuously raise the bar in our level of investment in this holiday. We need to invest more time and money in young Black employees at this company, especially at the store level.”