“This was a celebration from the beginning,” says Hilary Green, author and associate professor of history at the University of Alabama, explained in an interview with Inc about Juneteenth. Professor Green says, “Juneteenth is an opportunity to build relationships with the local community. You can build something new around this celebratory tradition.” Juneteenth became an official federal holiday in 2021.
But Juneteenth was recognized long before then. It’s been a state holiday in Texas since 1980. And Juneteenth has been celebrated in various states and communities for over 150 years.
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What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth has been called “America’s second Independence Day.” It’s celebrated each year on June 19th to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S. It’s also a celebration of African American history and culture. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of slavery and the Civil War.
How Can Businesses Celebrate Juneteenth?
1 – Invite a Guest Speaker
Small and midsize businesses can find qualified guest speakers on sites like Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau. Businesses can also reach out to local universities and colleges to find a history professor or African American studies expert who would like to speak to your employees about the holiday. A great guest speaker is an exciting change of pace from the typical workday. The effort shows employees you value them.
2 – Host a Workshop
Hosting a workshop might not be feasible for every small business. So, here’s a virtual Juneteenth workshop that was featured in Lonely Planet. You can buy this for your employees to engage in together. Or look to this workshop as inspiration for your own on-site workshop that can include:
Stories of Juneteenth
Why barbecue has become a “celebration food”
Telling the Harriet Tubman and John Brown story
Reciting the Emancipation Proclamation
Your business can also ask employees to think about ways to support Diversity and Inclusion values at work.
3 – Decorate Your Place of Business
Just like you might decorate for Independence Day, decorate for Juneteenth with the red, white, and blue Juneteenth flag. Juneteenth flags are available at retailers such as Walmart and Amazon. You might also display photos of important people related to Juneteenth, such as:
Union General Gordon Granger
Opal Lee (activist and the “grandmother” of Juneteenth)
4 – Host a “Lunch and Learn”
For small businesses, this can be as simple as getting together to watch an educational video about Juneteenth while enjoying traditional Juneteenth foods. There are three types of food central to the holiday: barbecue (Juneteenth originated in Texas!), red-colored foods such as red beans and rice, red velvet cake, strawberries, and “prosperity foods.”
According to Oprah Daily, Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, uncovered newspaper reports from the 1800s that called for entire communities to gather at the local barbecue pit to prepare the food and eat together in honor of Juneteenth. Michiel Perry, the founder of Black Southern Belle, told Oprah Daily that prosperity meals served on Juneteenth include side dishes such as black-eyed peas and pork to represent wealth, collard greens to bring good fortune, and corn to symbolize gold.
5 – Volunteer at Local Juneteenth Events
Your business can sponsor and/or participate in Juneteenth events. For instance, in Asure’s headquarters hometown of Austin, Texas, there is a Juneteenth park festival with volunteer opportunities. At Asure, we give employees VTO – Volunteer Time Off. This is paid time off for volunteering in the community.
6 – Give All Employees Paid Time Off for Juneteenth
Just like your business may give employees paid time off (PTO) for July 4th celebrations, consider granting paid time off for the Juneteenth federal holiday. Or consider giving employees “floating holidays.” At Asure, employees have floating holidays to take paid time off to celebrate holidays not already included in our work calendar.
7 – Promote Juneteenth on Social Media
You can download a Juneteenth social media kit from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture here. Raise awareness for the holiday. Show how your company is celebrating Juneteenth.
This is also an opportunity to grow your employer brand (your reputation with potential new employees) by discussing your commitment to finding and recruiting the best talent regardless of race, ethnicity, and so on.
8 – Start a Juneteenth Book Club
The Smithsonian includes these books on their Juneteenth recommended reading list:
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures
Musical Crossroads: Stories Behind the Objects of African American Music
And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and The American Struggle
Your business can send copies of the book you select to participating employees. Then in June, your business can host weekly book club meetings. This is also a great way to engage remote employees. The book club leader can come up with questions to spark conversation about the book and how it relates to Juneteenth. Example questions:
What was the most memorable part of this book for you?
Did this book make you reconsider any prior assumptions or thoughts?
9 – Go Together to an African American Museum
Here is a list of museums focused on the African-American experience in towns from Alexandria, Virginia, to New York, New York, to Wilberforce, Ohio. Encourage your employees to visit an African American history museum together. Offer to reimburse remote employees who visit their local museum. Explore the important history and accomplishments of African Americans.
Juneteenth is an annual celebration on June 19th commemorating the end of slavery in the US and is also a celebration of African American history and culture. Small and midsize businesses can participate in the celebration by hosting workshops, inviting guest speakers, decorating their place of business, hosting a lunch and learn, volunteering at local events, promoting the holiday on social media, starting a book club, and going together to an African American museum.
Celebrating Juneteenth provides an opportunity for businesses to build relationships with local communities and promote diversity and inclusion values at work. Learn more about how to elevate your employer brand and culture to attract high-quality talent and engage your employees with Asure’s affordable and effective HR services.