Skip to main content
The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Juneteenth celebration

Juneteenth, which falls on June 19th in 2023, is both a national holiday and a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality that has shaped America. It holds profound historical significance, representing the emancipation of enslaved Black people.

Juneteenth was born out of the contradictions of a nation that declared its independence from Britain in 1776 while at the same time expecting African slaves who fought in the American Revolutionary War to remain enslaved. It wasn’t until over a century later, on June 19, 1865, that General Gordon Granger's arrival in Galveston, Texas, would mark the official end of slavery in Texas. This moment arrived over two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a delayed freedom that underscores the deep-rooted injustices faced by Black Americans throughout history. Granger issued General Order No.3, enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing all remaining slaves in the state. This day would go on to be known and celebrated as Juneteenth.

While Black Americans have commemorated Juneteenth since the late 1800s, it was only in 2021 that President Joe Biden signed it into law as a federal holiday. Opal Lee, a dedicated advocate, has played a pivotal role in elevating Juneteenth to the national holiday it is today. Her tireless efforts, including a remarkable walk from Texas to Washington, D.C., have propelled the movement and increased awareness.

However, the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday has not been without controversy. Critics argue that giving people a day off work without creating systems for them to actively engage in meaningful action diminishes the true purpose of Juneteenth. While we, as Black Americans, appreciate the recognition, we agree that individuals and institutions must recognize that Juneteenth isn’t just a “free day off from work” and observe the significance of the day – beyond symbolic gestures.

We must embrace the opportunity that Juneteenth presents to take intentional action. This day calls upon us to reflect, educate ourselves and others, and actively work towards dismantling systemic racism. It is not enough to merely observe the holiday; we must use this time to challenge the status quo, advocate for racial justice, and address the deep-rooted inequalities Black communities face.

At Culture Amp, we are committed to creating inclusive and equitable workplaces where each individual feels valued and respected, and has equal opportunities to thrive. Juneteenth holds special significance for us because it aligns with our mission of creating a better world of work. By embracing the principles of equity, justice, and inclusivity that Juneteenth represents, we aim to contribute to the ongoing fight for racial equity and social justice in the workplace and beyond.

A conversation about Juneteenth between Tara Turk-Haynes and DeMario Bell

To understand Juneteenth, it’s essential to seek and understand the perspectives of those affected by the legacy of systemic racism and inequality that are still perpetuated today. However, remember that our perspectives are far from universal, and we aren’t attempting to speak for the wider community. The Black community consists of a diverse diaspora with wide-ranging viewpoints and beliefs.

To set the context, this is who we are:

  • Tara Turk-Haynes - I’m the VP of DEI and Talent Management at Leaf Group, where I oversee Leaf Group’s diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as hiring efforts. Before Leaf Group, I worked at Metacloud (a Cisco company), Variety Magazine, Ticketmaster, NBC Universal, Sundance Channel, and Penguin Putnam. I’m a first-generation graduate from Eugene Lang College, The New School, where I studied Social, Cultural, and Urban Studies, and Sarah Lawrence College, where I also studied theatre.
  • DeMario Bell - I’m the Senior Community Manager at Culture Amp, where I lead the digital strategy for the Culture First Community and help build thriving communities. Proudly hailing from Detroit, Michigan, USA, I am a first-generation college graduate and professional, a product of public education. I received my BA in English from Grand Valley State University. I carry my ancestor's strength and resilience within me. I am their wildest dream. My passion lies at the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and mentorship. I firmly believe in creating a more inclusive society where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.

In the conversation below, we will share our personal thoughts and perspectives on various aspects of Juneteenth, including its relevance in today’s world, the performativity of Juneteenth celebrations, how companies can get Juneteenth right, and more. We’d again like to emphasize that these perspectives are ours and ours alone. Nonetheless, we hope our ideas and perspectives will be a resource that will invite people to work towards meaningful actions. Juneteenth should serve as a catalyst for change, inspiring us to engage in enlightening dialogue, promote education, and work towards creating a society where every person can experience freedom, justice, and equality.

On why Juneteenth now

DeMario: It's really interesting to see how Juneteenth is receiving more attention now than ever, even though it has a history of almost 150 years. I think there are a couple of factors contributing to this.

Firstly, as conversations around racial justice gain prominence, companies are starting to reflect on their social responsibility in addressing these issues and realizing the significance of recognizing and celebrating Black Americans’ contributions to our country.

Secondly, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent protests following the tragic deaths at the hands of the police, like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, and Tony McDade, has ignited a widespread demand for change and accountability. This has shed a light on the importance of acknowledging and rectifying past injustices, with Juneteenth serving as a pivotal moment in that narrative.

Tara: Totally agree with all of that. I think with all of the reckoning efforts that came to a head a few years ago with the murders of everyone DeMario mentioned and more, lots of people felt like we were in a sprint to overcome hundreds of years of inequality.

DeMario: However, it's important to acknowledge that the declaration of Juneteenth as a national holiday has sparked some controversy, right Tara? Some argue that there's a risk of performative actions overshadowing the holiday's historical and cultural significance.

Tara: Absolutely. The acceptance and understanding of how we got here is a journey and not a quick destination, so anything we do has to be mindful and intentional so there’s some meaningfulness to it. The problem is that we are also at a time where we are curating education to fit agendas, so many people have no idea about historical events that mean something to the people they work alongside daily or regularly encounter in casual settings.

I think there’s also a desire for some groups of people to distance themselves from historical tragedies so they can be absolved of any responsibility. However, the truth is we are all still connected, and just because we ignore history doesn’t make it go away.

DeMario: Yes, which is why it’s so important for organizations to go beyond simply giving people a day off work and instead take tangible steps to address racial inequality and educate others about the true importance of Juneteenth. Ultimately, I believe the increased attention on Juneteenth reflects a broader societal shift toward recognizing and valuing Black history and experiences.

Tara: Yes, I really do feel like we are moving towards a moment where we are actually going back to the meaning of these observances rather than just thinking about them as a day off from work. Juneteenth seems to be one of the catalysts for that shift, given its context.

On the performativity of Juneteenth

DeMario: It's intriguing to dive into the issue of performativity surrounding Juneteenth, especially considering the increasing recognition of the benefits of embracing inclusivity by companies.

However, it's my belief that some individuals and organizations engage in performative actions because they are resistant to fully educating themselves on the truth. The truth can be uncomfortable – it challenges everything they believe in, requires deep introspection, and may expose their participation in performativity. Let's acknowledge the reality that some individuals may be resistant to acknowledging our nation’s true history or supporting meaningful change, especially if they benefit from the existing system.

Tara: Yeah, and I think there’s a desire for a quick fix and a reluctance to understand there isn’t one. Adding in the fact that the workplace as a construct is changing, the old traditional ways of dealing with employees won’t work.

An increasing number of us no longer compartmentalize ourselves where we put on our work face from 9 to 5 and then have our home lives. Work for some is now at home, and home for some doesn't leave us when we get to work. We don’t fit into old corporate molds that no longer serve us well, and we shouldn’t have to. We can still do our jobs, but we want to do it in a place that welcomes who we are rather than makes us conform to a dominant idea of what we should be.

Many studies show employees need to feel connected to a company’s values and mission – if DEI isn’t in your company's DNA, these efforts will be challenging. Think of Walmart’s Juneteenth ice cream or the recent South Carolina organization that did a Juneteenth banner with no Black people represented.

DeMario: Exactly. In those instances, recognizing Juneteenth becomes superficial, lacking genuine commitment and substantive actions. We must move beyond this shallow performance and engage in meaningful actions that promote understanding, education, and equity. This includes fostering genuine dialogue, supporting Black-owned businesses, amplifying Black voices in the workplaces, and actively working towards dismantling the systemic barriers that uphold racial inequality. Only by challenging ourselves, continuously learning, and being honest about our own complicity can we make real progress in the fight for racial justice.

Tara: Yes! Real progress. There are no shortcuts to inclusion. It will be uncomfortable and vulnerable to discover things you may not have known about the experiences of marginalized people, but that doesn’t mean there’s no reward when you do. There’s beauty in learning more about each other so we can work better together.

On why Juneteenth is everyone’s responsibility

DeMario: As individuals and organizations, it is our shared responsibility to authentically observe Juneteenth and recognize the profound significance of Black history within the fabric of American history. Juneteenth is not solely a holiday for Black Americans; it is a holiday for all Americans.

Tara: “None of us are free until we’re all free” is one of my personal principles as a DEI professional. When we say Black History in the US, Latine History in the US, Asian American History in the US, LGBTQIA+ History in the US, etc., we are still talking about American History. They aren’t separate; they are opportunities for a deeper dive into how we are all connected.

You don’t need permission to learn more about marginalized groups - there are so many resources and places for discussion at our fingertips. It’s important to seek out those marginalized voices who are out there rather than gathering alternative information that may not be directly from the source. Misinformation is dangerous as well.

On getting Juneteenth right

DeMario: If you’re not committed to true change, get out of the way and let those committed to the cause lead the way. We’ve seen enough performative allyship. It's time to confront the uncomfortable truth, plain and simple. This isn't about pointing fingers or assigning blame; it's about speaking the truth and acknowledging our complicated, intertwined history of freedom. The more we engage in open dialogue and actively drive change, the closer we find comfort in that truth.

Tara: Open dialogue ultimately helps us navigate complications and brings us closer to understanding. It may feel like there’s no place for this conversation in some environments, but I think that’s a huge miss. Specifically regarding Juneteenth, I think what’s so ironic to me is that it’s a date we acknowledge about enslaved people not getting the news about the abolishment of slavery until years after it happened – and that lack of communication was purposeful and willful. This was information affecting their lives, and it was kept from them for the benefit of others’ agendas. What an incredible reminder to be more open, communicative, and responsible for one another.

When people in the workplace feel as though there’s that psychological safety, they are more apt to be innovative, creative, collaborative, and invested, which has a variety of impactful results for an organization.

DeMario: Tara, you hit the nail on the head. Open dialogue is essential for navigating complexities and fostering genuine understanding. It's sad to see workplaces shying away from these crucial conversations, missing out on real growth opportunities. When reflecting on the significance of Juneteenth, it's ironic how the deliberate lack of information deeply impacted the lives of enslaved Black people. It's imperative for workplaces to prioritize psychological safety, as it fuels innovation, collaboration, and investment. By promoting dialogue and dismantling barriers, we can create an inclusive culture where every voice truly matters

Ultimately, Juneteenth serves as a powerful reminder for us to put our words into action and bridge the gap between our values and tangible change. It's about creating a path towards a future where equity and freedom are not mere ideals, but a lived experience for every single person.

On generational differences in how Juneteenth is perceived

DeMario: As a millennial, I've witnessed the clear generational differences surrounding Juneteenth in the workplace.

Millennials and Gen Zers, including myself, are keenly aware of its historical and cultural significance. Not only do we recognize it as a pivotal moment to honor Black Americans' contributions, but we also unapologetically demand genuine observance and tangible actions. We can spot when something is performative.

What I find intriguing is how my generation has embraced Juneteenth as a time to celebrate freedom and reflect on the systemic injustices that persist. We see it as an opportunity to educate ourselves and others, to have open conversations about racial equality, and to advocate for meaningful change.

Tara, I'm interested in hearing your perspective on how you've seen your generation and others commemorate Juneteenth. How do you think attitudes and approaches have evolved over time?

Tara: DeMario, my dad didn’t live long enough to see Juneteenth as a holiday, and I think he would be amazed. Those in my generation watched our parents work hard and keep their heads down at work – suffering systemic racism or sexism by not getting equal shots at promotions or advancement or even just acknowledging their true experience in this world.

As a member also of the Hip Hop generation, I think most of us decided to do this work outside of our jobs through our art, social protests, and building of community, so it’s really refreshing to see the worlds come together.

And as a Gen Xer, I remember a time when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was up for debate. He was one of the preeminent freedom fighters for this country, and he was assassinated trying to make the world better – yet we debated on whether he should have a day of acknowledgment.

To understand why this matter was even up for debate, you need to understand that at the time of his murder, Dr. King was incredibly unpopular with the dominant culture. Only now do we evoke his name in reverence across many different backgrounds. Sometimes I wonder if the fight to acknowledge our past will always encounter this resistance to understanding the facts of history.

I really love the unapologetic presence of Millenials and Gen Zers. That kind of courage to have those open conversations gives me so much pride! This is why your generation gives me so much hope because you all connect injustices to a bigger picture - like Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” You all are so resilient in learning more about each other and emphasizing the importance of authentically acknowledging how we got here and what we can do to have a better future. At some point, we will all come together in a way where those who deny the history and existence of marginalized people in the workplace will be the small outlier group.

DeMario: That's a thought-provoking perspective, Tara, and it truly highlights the challenges we face in acknowledging and observing historical figures and events in a meaningful way. It's interesting to see how Millennials and Gen Zers, including myself, have embraced Juneteenth with vibrant enthusiasm. From hosting neighborhood marches to organizing block parties and curating lineups of speakers, activists, and local artists, we have found unique and engaging ways to commemorate this important day. We’re both from Detroit, so you already know we know how to have a good time. I absolutely love that for us.

Furthermore, it's crucial to recognize that Juneteenth observances are just the beginning. It's essential to prioritize Black advancement in our policies and actions. As a Black professional, I believe if we design our policies with Black people in mind, truthfully everyone wins. By prioritizing equity and inclusion, we create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Additionally, while observances are fantastic, we must go beyond surface-level gestures. Personally, I strongly believe that relying solely on committees and focus groups is no longer sufficient. We need to channel the same urgency we would have if our organization faced a revenue or product problem. We don’t “work on them”, we just do it. Let's harness that energy and put our words into concrete action. The time for change is now.

Top 5 actions workplaces can take on Juneteenth

As we observe Juneteenth, it is important for workplaces to go beyond mere acknowledgment and engage in meaningful actions that contribute to the fight against racial inequality. Here are the top five actions workplaces can take on Juneteenth.

  1. Embrace economic empowerment: Support and promote black-owned businesses, practice supplier diversity, and foster Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) dedicated to uplifting the Black community.
  2. Elevate the conversation: Bring in a passionate speaker with deep knowledge of Juneteenth to speak about its historical importance to inspire action and empower individuals to actively contribute to the cause. Or have smaller conversations led by trained facilitators on topics relating to Junteenth like economic empowerment, historical overviews, or personal stories of Juneteenth.
  3. Demonstrate commitment to social justice: Organize a Juneteenth donation drive, mobilizing resources and support for organizations dedicated to dismantling systemic barriers and advancing racial equity.
  4. Recognize the importance of collective celebration: Offer a paid day off to all employees, acknowledging the significance of Juneteenth and providing dedicated time and resources to honor its legacy.
  5. Act as a catalyst for change: Sponsor a Juneteenth community event, partnering with local organizations and initiatives to expand the impact, amplify the message, and create lasting connections within your local community.
Illustration of four different hands, all making a different hand gesture.

Join the Culture First community

Learn more

Take action this Juneteenth and beyond

Juneteenth in the workplace should be more than just a symbolic holiday. It is a tangible opportunity for organizations to take meaningful action and address the deep-rooted inequalities faced by Black communities.

While the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday is a crucial step forward, it is essential we collectively move beyond performative gestures and engage in substantive actions that promote understanding, education, and equity. This includes amplifying Black voices in your organizations, fostering genuine dialogue, supporting Black-owned businesses, investing in anti-racism initiatives, and actively working to dismantle systemic barriers like murky promotion policies, lack of development support, unequal pay practices, or ineffective engagement strategies.

Organizations committed to creating inclusive and equitable workplaces are responsible for embracing the principles of Juneteenth and contributing to the ongoing fight for racial equity and social justice. Juneteenth is not just a day off work –  it is an opportunity to bridge the gap between values and tangible change, creating a future where all experience freedom, justice, and equality.

Resources to help guide your self-education journey:

Headshot - DeMario Bell

DeMario Bell

Senior Community Manager, Culture Amp

Headshot - Tara Turk-Haynes

Tara Turk-Haynes

VP of DEI and Talent Management, Leaf Group

What’s next

Build a world-class employee experience today

Your browser is out of date. Our website is built to provide a faster, more engaging experience. Your browser may not support all of our features. Please update to the latest version of Microsoft Edge or contact your network administrator.

Close browser update banner