Nov 23, 2023

How employers can recognize Juneteenth in a meaningful way

Culture How employers can recognize Juneteenth in a meaningful way

By: Olumidé Cole

The key to celebrating Juneteenth is in fact, not celebrating. Olumidé Cole, the Director of Cultural Diversity & Inclusion at Power Home Remodeling explains how organizations can avoid the performative stunts and instead take authentic action. 

As the most recently minted federal holiday, many Americans are planning how to spend their day off this Juneteenth. But for the Black community, it prompts a time of deeper reflection. 

Juneteenth is a day of remembrance for the end of enslavement in the U.S. It’s a symbol of freedom, a celebration of a true “Independence Day,” and a reckoning of the progress this country still needs when it comes to equality — or at least that’s what it should be. Instead, it feels like the holiday has become a trend that’s been hijacked by pop culture, a profit center for big business, or just another day off for workers. 

While intentions behind your kente cloth-branded products might be good, it feels like more of an exploitation Black culture and history for the sake of some good PR. But Good intentions are not enough. Authentic action is what creates real impact. Here are a few ways that organizations can better honor the day of liberation. 

1. Prioritize employee experiences over profit.

Employees of Power’s Black Empowerment Resource Group (also known as “B.E.R.G.”) celebrate during their annual Juneteenth event focused on connection, education, and community impact.

I’ve seen many companies engage in performative or “woke” acts during Juneteenth under the guise of “empowering the Black community.” If you really want to empower, give the power to your employees and get out of the way.

At Power, our Black Employee Resource Group (also known as B.E.R.G.) gets to decide how they want to recognize Juneteenth — not our executive team or HR department. Ultimately, they created a weekend-long experience that recognizes their culture and history, impacts the Black community outside of company walls, and aims to create a real awareness of the Black experience.

2. Don’t ‘celebrate’ — educate.

Power employees participate in a walking tour around Atlanta, learning about historical figures and sights of the city’s rich Black history.

While Juneteenth is a time for Black people to celebrate their culture and history, it’s important we don’t curtail the holiday to just gimmicky cookouts or festivals. Instead, let’s use it as an opportunity to educate others. 

And I’m not just talking about hosting a seminar discussing the history of Juneteenth and slavery in our country. Although that can be valuable to an extent, it feels like a “check-box” mentality if that’s the only initiative you’re taking as an organization. What we need is real understanding of the Black experience. 

Every year, we invite select members of our leadership team to our Juneteenth event, providing an environment that helps them see their employees’ authentic selves — not just how they’re performing in their roles. That authentic look into who they truly are and the experiences they’ve been through is what creates a deeper understanding and empathy. That’s what leads to real change — not a limited edition Juneteenth product. 

3. Give back to the community — but for the right reasons.

B.E.R.G. members volunteer with the Urban Farming Institute, to harvest and distribute produce to underserved communities in Boston.

We see many give-back efforts during Juneteenth include making donations to various organizations that support the Black community. Yes, donations are well and good, but is it positively impacting your employees? Are you signing a check just for good PR?

Consider encouraging your employees to volunteer, like improving a Black youth center in your area, or delivering meals to underprivileged communities. While these may seem smaller in comparison to a monetary donation, these actions not only instill a greater sense of pride and purpose for employees, but also create tangible impact in your communities.

That’s why one of the main pillars of Power’s Juneteenth experience is supporting the Black community outside of our walls. This includes volunteering with a non-profit that serves the Black community and patronizing Black-owned businesses in the city we’re hosting our event. 

The hardest part? Looking inward. 

With this advice, my hope is that organizations don’t reduce their support of the Black community to just Juneteenth or Black History Month. These practices can — and should — be applied to diversity & inclusion efforts at large, 365 days a year. 

I encourage other business leaders to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Am I prioritizing investments that will generate positive press and increase profits, or am I prioritizing a more meaningful investment in the experience of my employees and our communities to create lasting change?” Remember, no matter how small it might be, authentic action always wins.

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