Better Together: The Significance of Juneteenth

Big Reds served up on warm buns with ketchup, relish and mustard. Aluminum foil encased over trays of hamburgers, rib tips, chicken, green beans and the “good” potato salad. Charcoal smoke stings your eyes and fills your throat through coughs and loud laughter. Kids chase each other through the sprinklers; there are face painting stations and backpack drive lines. Music blares — and adults and children alike 1,2, Step to the “Electric Slide” on the brightest, hottest and sunniest of days.

Happy, live, brown bodies embrace the joy of the day — as we sing, dance and enjoy fellowship.

These vivid images are all memories I have from celebrating Juneteenth as a child. Moments like those were integral to my community in my hometown. As a shy, introverted little girl, I wasn’t always welcoming of such large and loud gatherings. But as an adult, I have a deep appreciation for my mother exposing me to such a large part of my culture.

From a very young age, my mother, as many Black parents do, made me aware of my heritage. She also made me aware that I’d be treated differently because of the color of my skin. I was always told I had to work twice as hard, be twice as smart, and that I definitely couldn’t get into trouble because the consequences for me would be far worse for the same offense committed by my white counterparts. I was always mindful of the nuances and I learned to maneuver the world this way — always being aware that my actions carried the weight of my people. It’s a burden that no one, especially a child, should have to carry.

While I was fully aware of the plight Black people had to face, I wouldn’t come to understand the full credence of Juneteenth until I was in college.

Juneteenth is the most widely recognized emancipation holiday in the US. It commemorates June 19th, 1865, the day when slaves in rural Galveston, Texas, were ordered free by the Union General Gordon Granger. This date is significant because it came nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 — official order that ended slavery.

In the years since Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, it has become a popular unity-building day in Black communities.

In recent years, and in the wake of the national unrest sparked by the murder of unarmed black men and women in the US like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Juneteenth has gained recognition in several cities and states across the country as an official holiday.

These changes occur in parallel to opposing forces, such as legislators fighting to remove the already watered-down history of slavery from our children textbooks, continued inequality, as well as a lack of access to: a decent education, economic opportunities and capital, fair housing and fair home evaluations for those looking to sell their homes, proper healthcare, affordable healthy groceries in areas where there are food deserts, and transportation in areas where many people are forced to walk.

What Juneteenth has come to signify for so many Black Americans is that even in our rightful vindication, Black people have always endured delayed justice. This is why we fight so hard for it today. So, after years of systemic mechanisms designed to tear our communities apart, days like Juneteenth create a sense of unity and community among each other to renew our hearts, revive our communities, restore our faith in each other, and pour our time and energy into each other as we strive for continued progress for equality and equity.

These community-building activities have been happening for over 400 years, and I am so appreciative of the Inclusion Groups at Genesys that allow us to celebrate such activities in work. I’m a founding member of the Genesys Black Employees and Allies Membership (GBEAM) Inclusion Group, which exists to cultivate a space for Black employees and their allies to collaboratively build a professional development framework that assists in the advancement of current Black talent while building a pipeline for future Black talent at Genesys.

Beyond this, we seek to cultivate a community of empathy — holding space for education, authenticity and to affirm the unique experiences and identities of Black employees using the knowledge gained for internal and external community outreach and engagement. Leaders of organizations must recognize the need to hold space for authenticity and community, to affirm one another in designated safe spaces that we can carve out specifically for our employees. It’s so great that, at Genesys, we’re following in the footsteps of so many that have come before us — to create these safe spaces for all employees.

This Juneteenth, we’re recognizing the day by holding a company celebration to show we’re more than just the sum of our tragedies. We want to show we have victory in celebrating accomplishments and promotions — and in giving our allies a little taste of a traditional Juneteenth celebration by playing games, interacting as a community, offering education and finishing it off with some amazing Black music. We’ll continue our celebration by encouraging the patronage of Black-owned businesses, donations to nonprofits that uplift Black communities, and affirming and uplifting the Black communities that many of us come from and that others benefit from.

As we continue to strive for progress in creating more sustainable and equitable futures for all, we encourage everyone to take a moment on this Juneteenth to stop and reflect. Look for one area in your life where you have privilege and use that privilege to give or create space for those who don’t. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher.” And we’re truly lifted higher when we unite on our commonalities instead of dividing them on our differences. We are all truly better together.