For many Black Americans of African descent, Juneteenth is far more than a holiday. Juneteenth offers an opportunity to fully process the entirety of the Black experience in America. We celebrate our monumental achievements over the last 150 years – and in the same breath, we acknowledge the persistence of barriers established long ago that we still confront today.
Originating in Texas in 1866 and established as a federal in 2021, Juneteenth is observed in various ways across the United States. For some, Juneteenth is a day of celebration! Communities may organize parades, cookouts, and family gatherings to commemorate the end of slavery. Other people hold Juneteenth as a day of reflection, taking this time to honor the history and legacy of Black people in the United States. For them, this holiday may be reserved for prayer, reading, and reflection. Some folks recognize Juneteenth as a day of action. Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, more communities and organizations nationwide are devoting the day to promoting education, civic engagement, and social action focused on fighting racism.
According to the latest news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Black unemployment rate remains higher than other racial groups, continuing a pattern that has existed for decades.
These are some of the many factors that contribute to the racial wealth gap, a problem that directly leads to different realities for Black Americans as we face inadequate housing, higher mortality rates, and fewer resources for schools in Black neighborhoods. There is considerable progress to celebrate, but true equality for Black people in the United States is far from being achieved.
At CommCorp, our mission is to foster workforce equity in Massachusetts by delivering innovative and collaborative professional development solutions that help diverse communities and employers succeed. Our mission requires us to commit to becoming an anti-racist organization. We must acknowledge the reality of systemic racism as a barrier to full participation in the workforce and strategize our efforts to dismantle it in and outside of our organization.
This holiday provides an opportunity to reflect on our internal and external DE&I efforts and future goals.
Here’s what’s happening at CommCorp:
- We are partnering with DEI consultants to assess the organization’s needs and develop goals.
- Hold virtual spaces for employees to build community through discussion and dialogue.
- Reviewing hiring practices with the intent to remove barriers to employment at CommCorp.
- Conducting compensation reviews to ensure more equitable pay for BIPOC employees
So, what can you do? Educate and Celebrate!
- As we celebrate Juneteenth, I encourage you to research the history of policies and practices that drive the racial wealth gap. Seek information to better understand their intent and impact on Black communities. Start locally and learn more about redlining in Boston or the Boston busing crisis to gain important context that will illustrate the complexity of systemic and institutional racism that we face today.
- To learn more about Juneteenth specifically, visit this resource provided by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- Stay connected to Boston’s Black community and find Juneteenth events in the Bay State Banner, an African American-owned newsweekly that has covered issues facing the Black community in New England since 1965.
- Looking for things to do? Check-in with King Boston, a program of the Boston Foundation, is hosting the Embrace Ideas Festival. They have an impressive list of activities with some incredible guests!
- GBH is sponsoring a free virtual lecture featuring author and Harvard University Professor Annette Gordon-Reed who will be discussing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “On Juneteenth.” Find more information and register for the online event here.
Juneteenth is an important tradition in the Black and African American community, and plenty of great programs are taking place around the Commonwealth. It is my hope that this Juneteenth brings us knowledge, inspiration, and energy to work to eliminate these obstacles to justice and prosperity for Black Americans. Happy Juneteenth!
Jeff Smith is the Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Commonwealth Corporation
About Juneteenth: On June 19th, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker issued a proclamation declaring June 19th as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, officially making it a statewide holiday. This decision was made in response to the emerging global movement to confront systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd. On June 17th, 2021, Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday when President Joseph Biden signed it into law. Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was recognized in 1983.