Juneteenth (June 19) celebrates the liberation of enslaved Africans in the U.S. Also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, it marks the beginning of freedom for approximately 4 million people in the U.S.,1 an enormous first step toward an equitable nation. Juneteenth is a “critical inflection point in the Black freedom struggle” according to historian Julian Hayter.2

Though it is a jubilant celebration of liberation, it is also a time to acknowledge why that liberation was necessary. History tells us that in 1862, the U.S. was embattled in the Civil War. The Union army was losing soldiers due to massive casualties and desertions3 when President Lincoln wrote a wartime order that came to be known as the Emancipation Proclamation. Issued on January 1, 1863, this executive order accomplished two things:

  • Granted limited and location-based freedom.4 (It applied only to Confederate states and was enforced as the Union army won territory during the war.)
  • Allowed formerly enslaved Black men to serve in the military, inviting an alliance between them and white Union soldiers.5, 6

 Emancipation Proclamation in handwritten script with American flagAccording to the National Archives, this new alliance helped to change the Civil War’s outcome by capturing “the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans.” It “fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom.”6

Where does Juneteenth fit into this history? It’s the anniversary of a general order in Galveston, Texas that proclaimed the end of slavery in that state on June 19, 1865. Later that year, Congress ratified the 13th Amendment on December 6, which formally abolished slavery throughout the United States.

Better together

Clasped handsMany wonder how to contribute to sustained change for the cause of equity within our workplaces and communities. One answer is allyship, which means ongoing, conscious actions that actively advance inclusion, which benefits all people.7,8,9,10

In 2020, a companywide conversation began at SEI with the three-part “Let’s Listen” series, which took place over a six-week period during the summer. As a result, Black colleagues formed the SEI Black Professionals Network, whose mission, among other things, is to support the needs of Black professionals through leadership development, educational forums and networking opportunities. Open to all SEI employees, the initiatives are designed to provide results-driven impact and foster change. 

When we create a safe space for conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion, we are recognizing the importance of all experiences and perspectives.

One of SEI Black Professionals Network’s initiatives this year is a Juneteenth Cooking Celebration. During this cooking demonstration, Chef Stikxz from Food Network’s Taste of Jamaica will prepare a meal while speaking about the intersections between Juneteenth, food and family.

The goal for the Black Professionals Network is to be a catalyst for change so that true equity will move beyond the walls at SEI into the communities where our employees reside. Becoming a part of this diversity-forward movement begins with: 

  • Research: Taking time to read articles, listen to podcasts, watch the news, and deepen our understanding.10
  • Removing the goggles of experience: Becoming aware of the limitations of personal experiences and avoiding generalization from the stories of one or two colleagues.10
  • Accepting others’ viewpoints: Being willing to believe another’s memory and perspective of a situation and its impact on them, even when we don’t understand or see it the same way. 
  • Being vigilant: Paying attention to how women, people of color, and women of color experience meetings and other gatherings, and stay alert to inequities and disparities.10
  • Supporting others: Lifting others up by crediting the actual idea originator.11
  • Calling out inappropriate behavior: For those who are not underrepresented, it means speaking up when we see unacceptable behavior directed toward those who are.12
  • Involving everyone in diversity- and inclusion-related tasks: Fostering an environment of inclusion is good for business.12

Organizations can have an enormous impact on creating equity in our communities and beyond.13 When we create a safe space for conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion, we are recognizing the importance of all experiences and perspectives. Breaking down barriers in this way allows more possibilities for growth through innovation and execution. The economic stability that successful, forward-thinking companies create can support healthier, more vibrant and safe communities for all.

It is important to examine our progress toward inclusion in light of our goals in order to become a truly equitable workforce of the future. This is how we learn to be better together. By doing this, we can capture the hearts and imagination of our workforce and fundamentally transform the character of our organizations and the communities in which we live.

Sources

  1. Slavery in America,” History.com.
  2. What to know about Juneteenth, the emancipation holiday,” NBC News.
  3. "What Union Soldiers Thought About the Civil War," New York Times.
  4. Emancipation Proclamation,” History.com.
  5.  “Transcript of the Proclamation,” National Archives.
  6. The Emancipation Proclamation,” National Archives.
  7. What Is Allyship? Your Questions, Answered,” Center for Creative Leadership.
  8. Be a Better Ally,” Harvard Business Review.
  9. The Importance of Giving Credit,” Harvard Business Review.
  10. Allyship - The Key To Unlocking The Power Of Diversity,” Forbes.
  11. How to Promote Racial Equity in the Workplace (hbr.org),” Harvard Business Review.

Further Reading

Vibrant Economy,” Plan H. 
Reconstruction: The Vote,” Black History in Two Minutes or So. Youtube.com.
The Reconstruction Amendments,” The National Constitution Center.