Juneteenth: thoughts from our Black community

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Juneteenth: thoughts from our Black community

Employees talk about the history of the holiday and how to honor it.

Colette Des Georges

June 17, 2022 | 8 min read

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Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States, is on June 19th. The holiday has gotten much more attention in recent years as current racial injustices and inequities have risen to the forefront, and many forward-looking companies, including Momentive, have made it an official company holiday.

 It’s a time to honor the progress we’ve made (and the people behind it) and reflect on the changes we still urgently need to make. In honor of Juneteenth, we asked four members of BUILD—the employee resource group for Black and African American employees at Momentive—to share their thoughts and traditions.

Avis Wright

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

For me Juneteenth, like some other holidays recognized in the U.S., is a celebration that comes with a degree of ambivalence and creates a paradox when I think about its meaning.

The holiday commemorates the effective end of enslavement in this country. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it would take more than 2 years before news would reach enslaved people in Galveston, TX.  Juneteenth celebrations began that day  and have grown all over the country since then.  But that period also, ironically, marks the time of reconstruction which legalized segregation in the US and gave rise to Jim Crow. 

While making Juneteenth a federal holiday can be seen as an acknowledgement that the independence of this nation wasn’t complete until June 19, 1865, the promise of our framers has yet to be fulfilled.

To me, Juneteenth is not only a celebration but also a moment to reflect on the immense work that is still needed so that all Americans have the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

Taking my cue from the ancestors, I honor the day with reflection, prayer and celebration.  I spend time in my community with family and friends.  Food is a huge part of the celebration and a great way to bring people together.  I take time to educate myself on the significance of the day and what I can do to positively impact my community.

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

There are so many amazing Black creators and thought leaders out there!

Dr. Christina Greer is a professor at Fordham University—an author and a content creator.  I recommend her book Black Ethnics.  She also has a learning path on LinkedIn.  Our very own Zach Nunn curates incredible content on Living Corporate and also has courses available through LinkedIn Learning.

And if you’re inspired by dance and creative movement like me, then check out Alvin Ailey’s Revelations which explores the history and traditions of Black Americans from enslavement to liberation. If the dance company comes near you, there’s nothing better than seeing it live. 

Corey Goolsby

What does Juneteenth mean to you?  

I recognize Juneteenth as independence day for our nation.  I say for “our nation”(and not for Black people) because we could not be considered a free nation when some members of our country were enslaved.  Chattel slavery stood in stark contrast to the founding principles of our country. Slavery as an instituion is incongruent with a free society and Juneteeth represents the start of correcting that conflict.

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

I honor Juneteenth by participating in activities with my family and community that honor African principals and culture.  Some of them include music (drum circles), remembering and learning about historical events and figures, and enjoying different types of food.The most important Juneteenth tradition that I have is to educate and be educated about why Juneteenth was necessary, so that we do not find ourselves needing another similar holiday to commemorate overcoming atrocities in this county in the future.

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

I don’t think one can have a true appreciation as to what Juneteenth means without being aware of the evils of slavery. There are several great literary works and movies that represent those times.

I’d suggest a read of Alex Haley’s Roots or 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup—or watch the movies based on them. One system that, in many ways, has an aspect of modern-day slavery is the prison industrial complex. Ava Duvernay does a great job exploring this in 13th. Ava or Bryan Stevenson (founder of Equal Justice Initiative), who is featured in the film, are great thought leaders to follow. 

Daaimah Tibrey

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

To me, Juneteenth is a promise—a promise to honor a history of both pain and triumph. 

Juneteenth is a time to recall the new freedom granted to our ancestors and what they endured up to that point, and to recognize how it inherently shapes how we interact with the world—especially in the United States. 

I am reminded, on Juneteenth, that while I live with the freedom to own land or arms, seek education, and engage in commerce, I still do so with an inherited fight for equality. I still live in a society where I’ve been institutionally steered to fall short. Juneteenth is a reminder that each of my learnings, triumphs, and successes are about more than just me. I also do it for the culture—past, present and future! Juneteenth is a promise to embody a future of generational excellence, continued fight for equality, and cultural sustainability.

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

Me and my family celebrate Juneteenth through evaluation and community involvement. We evaluate our various goals: legacy, finance, and interpersonal. If we find that we are not on track to meet one of our goal deadlines, we evaluate causation, and adjust as needed. 

We attend local community events and patron Black-Owned Businesses (B.O.B.s). We use these outings to educate the children about civic involvement, finances, and local history. An assortment of soul food typically closes out the day, as it allows for more historical discussion and reflection about Black culture. 

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

The Memo by Minda Harts is very close to my experience as a Black-woman professional; it discusses the unique experiences and obstacles Women of Color (WOC) face in corporate settings. It makes for a great addition to any ally’s library in understanding the hoops and juggling that WOC go through as professionals. This book is a must have for any WOC’s leveling up arsenal as it throws out the cookie cutter advice most other books give and doles out some real talk about how to grab that “seat at the table”!

Shason Briscoe

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth is a celebration of the incremental walk towards justice. As with many things, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come, but also the amount of work we still have left to do to make our ancestor’s legacies whole. The effects of chattel slavery are still permeating every part of American political culture today, so we can only hope Juneteenth gives America time to reflect on its past and what needs to be done as we go into the future.

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

As a child of Jamaican immigrants, Junteenth wasn’t something we grew up celebrating. When I went to university and saw people in the Black community around Sacramento celebrating the holiday, I started realizing the history and weight of the holiday and what it means to Black Americans across the country (and especially the South).

Last year, I spent Juneteenth getting my favorite Chicken and Waffles in the city at Keith’s in Daly City and spent the afternoon in Lake Merritt in Oakland buying art from artists and dancing with the community. I hope to do the same again this year while eating from and celebrating the Black Oakland community. 

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

I would recommend a selection of my favorite TV shows by Black creators: 

  • Insecure, a coming of age story about a young Black woman professional in LA by Issa Rae
  • Atlanta, a zany but funny comedy from Donald Glover
  • I May Destroy You, a hard-hitting dramedy about (TW) trauma from a Black woman living in London
  • P-Valley, a show about a predominately Black women strip club in Louisiana and all of their vibrant and laugh-out-loud personalities 

This Sunday, we hope that you take time to celebrate the Black community, educate yourself, and consider offering support to an organization that is fighting for racial justice today, like  The Innocence Project, Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), The Bail Project, and The Hidden Genius Project—all of which you can support by taking surveys on SurveyMonkey Contribute if you can’t make a donation directly.  

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