On October 3, 2017, the Johnsons celebrated Juneteenth. To some, this may seem like a random day—who are the Johnsons and why does it matter that they celebrated Juneteenth in October? I’ll get to that.
But first, if you’re unfamiliar with Juneteenth, it’s the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It marks the day (June 19, 1865—2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation) that Union Army Major General Gordon Granger informed the people of Galveston, Texas, that, in accordance with the Proclamation, all enslaved people were free. The celebrations that ensued have led to a long-lasting tradition we continue to honor today. It officially became a federal holiday last year, on June 17, 2021.
To others, like myself, the Johnsons celebrating Juneteenth marked a new point in the knowledge of African American history. That day in October was the day that “black-ish”—a hit TV show about a man’s determination to establish a sense of cultural identity for his family—aired an episode that educated many people around the world about Juneteenth and its significance in not just African American history but also American history. The episode made waves, and it could be partly responsible for the growing recognition of the holiday today.
In the episode, the protagonist, Dre, laments that “[Juneteenth is] a 150-year-old tradition that no one’s heard about … not even my Black kids.” I can testify. I studied both U.S. history and African American history at a historically black university, and this significant event wasn’t included in textbooks or the lessons for either course. Somehow, I never heard of it until that day in TV history, which was well into my adulthood.
Since Juneteenth falls on a Sunday this year, UKG will observe Monday, June 20, as the holiday, giving non-essential employees the day off and the opportunity to celebrate how they see fit. I’ll be spending some fellowship time with a few U Krewers (my new sisterhood) with whom I attended this year’s Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, sharing how we’re using the lessons from the conference to advance our careers and improve our lives (*cue proud ancestors*). Read on to hear how other U Krewers intend to pay tribute to the occasion.
Rose L., Lead Business Development Representative
“I’ll be having family over to my house, and we’ll be cooking up a storm, including traditional foods like chicken, filé gumbo, black-eyed peas, beans and rice, pig’s feet, collard greens, cornbread, red velvet cake and peach cobbler. Many of these food items, such as black-eyed peas and the okra used in gumbo, originated in Africa. We’ll share the history of our family and ancestors and discuss what we are grateful for today as well as how we want to be the change we’d like to see in the world. Our family will also discuss the importance of our voice, voting, and carrying our traditions into the future. Today, I lead the conversation to keep the history alive and educate the younger members of my family as they will likely not learn about Juneteenth in history class. This is a time to acknowledge the past when our family members were treated inhumanly and as property. We celebrate our culture through food, dance, and music, and we pray, remembering the pain and suffering our family members endured and the lives lost. Furthermore, we celebrate the freedoms we have today, always hoping for true equality in the world.”
We’ll share the history of our family and ancestors and discuss what we are grateful for today as well as how we want to be the change we’d like to see in the world.
Tonya E., Lead Public Relations Strategist
“I was inspired by an Instagram post I saw last year suggesting that, if your organization gives you a paid day off for Juneteenth, you could give your full-day earnings to a Black organization or individual(s) with the understanding that many people don’t get the day off. I recommend the African American Policy Forum for those who don’t know where to donate to. This year, I think I’ll be splitting my day’s earnings among a few smaller educators—Britt Hawthorne, Nikki Blak, and Michelle Nicole—because I’ve really benefited from their work this past year. The Conscious Kid is also a good organization to contribute to because they get funds directly into the hands of people who have real-time needs. Another idea: For anyone who hasn’t signed up for Amazon Smile, this is a great opportunity to do it! Before or on Juneteenth, set a goal to find a Black organization you’d like to support via Amazon Smile at no cost to you.”
Tiffany Y., ACA Benefits Specialist
“My family honors the holiday by exploring and learning about different African cultures around the world. We travel to and tour various parts of the world, outside of the traditional tourist areas. We immerse ourselves as if we are citizens. Recently, I traveled to Jamaica to learn about the history, culture, and people of the country. Over the holiday weekend, my children and I will attend Juneteenth in the Park—a cultural event that brings the public together to celebrate the occasion. I constantly instill in the minds of my young ones the importance of Juneteenth, the history, and what they can do as they get older to learn more about our history and how they can support the mission. I teach my children about African American culture at home, because deep-rooted African American history is not provided to the younger school population. This holiday was created to not only allow us to understand the history of our ancestors, but it also allows me the opportunity to realize that I am here for a reason.”
Undoubtedly, countless other U Krewers will celebrate Juneteenth in different ways. Whatever these activities may be, the most important thing is that we all remember and respect the reason and the history behind the holiday.