Our office will be closed on Monday because this is the first year Juneteenth is recognized as a Federal Holiday — though only 18 states (Washington being one of them) recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
Before the holiday, I want to take just a few minutes to share what I think is the significance of Juneteenth. By now, I hope most of you know the history of Juneteenth. That though President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it took two additional years, June 19th, 1865, for the last enslaved people in Texas to be informed they were free.
For over 150 years, African Americans have celebrated this day as our Independence Day. But it has gained broader awareness in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Amaud Aubrey, and many others.
Though making Juneteenth a national holiday is a significant step in progress for African Americans; I can’t help but think about the mass shooting in Buffalo just over a month ago and believe we still have such a long way to go. There’s a tradition at many Juneteenth celebrations where the community sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” just like members of Congress did upon signing the Juneteenth holiday into law. Like many African Americans, I’ll be mindful that, as the song says, we must continue to fight on “till victory is won.”
Though celebrations are a tradition recognizing this day, I also think it’s a day of learning. If fact, just last year, I learned something myself. Last June, our agency met up at Gasworks Park in Seattle after months of not seeing one another. It was so much fun to get together again. But our mistake was we called it a Juneteenth celebration yet didn’t make one mention of the day or what it meant. Last year’s interns (from the B.L.A.C. Internship Program) gave us the gift of honesty. They let us know how we missed an opportunity to share and acknowledge the holiday. And they were right.
So this year, I, my partner, Alan, and our leadership team must acknowledge this day. Not because it’s now a Federal Holiday, but because it’s a day of reflection, education, and celebration. And that’s what we hope people will do this long weekend.
There are so many outstanding educational resources and experiences around Juneteenth. Whether listening to a podcast or attending a community celebration, I encourage you to take advantage of them over this long weekend. And our company has decided to reimburse our employees for any content they choose to purchase or activity they attend. Like so many issues in the world today, people can make a difference if they choose to do so. In the case of Juneteenth, it’s a reminder to continue to push for justice for all people. And that our journey to achieve this is ongoing.