Navigating Juneteenth

Considered by some to be “America’s Second Independence Day,” Juneteenth has only recently entered the national zeitgeist. Celebrated on the third Saturday in June, it became a federal holiday just last year under President Joe Biden. Many companies are left wondering how to acknowledge the holiday. We sat down with Eskalera’s co-founder Dr. Tolonda Tolbert to get her take.

Should employers/corporations acknowledge Juneteenth?

Since Juneteenth was institutionalized as a federal holiday in 2021, it should be acknowledged just like all the other national holidays (Ex. Memorial Day, Labor Day, MLK Day). Juneteenth should be seen with the same reverence that our other national holidays receive, similar to the 4th of July, it is a holiday that is about freedom, and the struggle against the original sin of our nation — slavery. Juneteenth both defines the legacy of our past and the potential of our future.

How should employers/corporations mark Juneteenth?

Because the history of Juneteenth has been silenced and erased in our history books, and as a new federal holiday, many people aren’t familiar with Juneteenth. Because of this, it is important to accompany anything that an organization does with the historical information to build awareness of what Juneteenth symbolizes for our nation. Each organization can do what is organic to its company culture. If your organization is accustomed to having conversations around topics like this, you can hold learning circles to discuss what it means. Perhaps your organization participates in community volunteer work, they can volunteer to help a non-profit that works in the Black community. If your organization typically has guest speakers then invite one in to discuss Juneteenth. Regardless of what the activity is, Juneteenth is a celebration of an important move forward in U.S. history. It is also a remembrance of the ongoing inequity that our nation struggles through, and an opportunity to move the discussion forward by looking at what we can do as individuals and as organizations.

How should non-black individuals honor and observe Juneteenth?

To not celebrate Juneteenth is to not celebrate the progress that we have made, the promise of TRUE freedom that Juneteenth represents, and the continued struggle to fulfill that promise. Because we are also living through this historic moment where the dominant culture is waking up to the systemic nature of racism in our country, it is imperative that all who believe and are invested in equality, freedom, and fairness recognize Juneteenth. And in the midst of the onslaught of racial hate crimes and tragedy across this country, it is a good time to take a moment to recognize this unique Independence day that’s worthy of celebration! If your city has a Juneteenth celebration, join in! Read a book to your kids about Juneteenth, go to a museum and learn about Black culture, make your own new tradition like cooking soul food, go to see a Black art exhibit, go to a Black-owned business to have lunch, watch a documentary on Black History, or just educate yourself and those in your life at the dinner table about Juneteenth. Do what feels good — the important part is to engage in conversations about the meaning of Juneteenth, looking at how far we have come, and recommitting to forging forward to tackle our current challenges. I look at this as a chance to refill my cup with celebration, and to be inspired by those who prevailed in the face of insurmountable odds.

What changes, in terms of DEI, have you seen in the past 10 years that give you hope?

I’m hopeful when I see conversations about racism are not limited to the domain of People of Color. When men are having conversations about sexism. When straight people are having conversations about homophobia and transphobia. When these types of conversations expand beyond the marginalized communities who are targeted — that feels like progress. When members of our society get accustomed to engaging in courageous dialogue, that is the prerequisite for authentic allyship that privileges action. I’m also hopeful when dominant groups are able to see the patterns in our society that target only certain groups. This is critical because it is an indicator that people are starting to see that regardless of what -ism you are looking at, it is not about isolated events with bad actors, there are patterns of marginalization and violence that are systemic.

What changes, in terms of DEI, have you seen in the past 10 years that merit concern?

The thing that concerns me most is that there are a lot of calories spent, attacking people for the misuse of a word here and there. Let me be clear, WORDS matter! However, if we are to truly move a whole society forward, we will have to build the stamina to tolerate mistakes, give each other more grace, and the opportunity for redemption.

How does a company like Eskalera fit into the framework for progress?

Eskalera is committed to helping companies achieve more inclusive and productive cultures through our employee empowerment platform. We know that change is slow and uneven, and must involve every member of a company, consistently. We take pride in offering a scalable holistic solution that doesn’t just report what and where the cultural problem is, but simultaneously helps solve the problem by building the knowledge, connections, insights, and skills to “DO” inclusion. Inclusive culture is something that must be intentionally cultivated, and we are the trusted advisors to create measurable, long-term sustainable change that empowers employees to reach their individual development goals, and help organization advance their strategic goals.



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