This year is likely the first time many organizations will observe Juneteenth after it became a federal holiday in 2021. Beyond giving employees the day off, organizations should think about how to celebrate Juneteenth at work to demonstrate their commitment to the holiday’s history, traditions and impact.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of enduring resilience and freedom from bondage,” says Drew Lewis, Vice President, Diversity and Talent, ADP. “In the spirit of liberty, it’s a time for everyone to unite, dance, sing, eat good food and rejoice in the camaraderie of co-workers, friends and loved ones. We encourage everyone to be a part of this annual celebration and partake in the cherished and beloved traditions that have defined Juneteenth since its first observance over 150 years ago.”
What is Juneteenth, when is it and why is it important?
Juneteenth, or Juneteenth National Independence Day, is a federal holiday celebrated annually in the United States on June 19. The holiday is important because it commemorates the ending of slavery in the U.S. and functions as a large-scale celebration of Black history and culture. June 19, 1865 marks the arrival of Gordon Granger, a Union general, in Galveston, Texas, where he announced the end of slavery and the Civil War, the latter of which had ended on April 9, 1865.
What are some ways to celebrate Juneteenth at work?
Below are six ways to celebrate Juneteenth at work, inspired by ADP’s own celebrations. Don’t forget to include virtual connection points for hybrid and remote employees as you plan.
1. Ask leaders to talk about the holiday
Ask your organization’s leaders to talk about Juneteenth, its history and why your organization has chosen to celebrate it. These reasons will vary from one organization to another, but it’s important to voice them so that employees understand their organization’s commitment to supporting the holiday. For example, ADP has an organization-wide theme for Juneteenth, “Educate and Celebrate,” and plans to have some of its diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) leaders discuss the holiday within the context of this theme. Similarly, you could choose a theme and ask your leaders to discuss, for example, the story of Juneteenth, why it’s celebrated on June 19 and its cultural significance today. Encourage employees to participate, making the discussion as collaborative as possible.
2. Host a “Did You Know?” campaign
Hosting a “Did You Know?” campaign is a great way to educate employees about Juneteenth. You could showcase or distribute facts about the holiday on office display screens, on an organizational portal or in a “Did You Know?” email series. Here are some to get you started:
- Did you know that, on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday?
- In 2021, the city of Galveston, Texas dedicated a 5,000-square-foot mural, known as “Absolute Equality,” where Granger made his announcement.
- Did you know that Juneteenth goes by a few different names, such as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Cel-Liberation Day, Second Independence Day and Emancipation Day?
3. Create out-of-office message templates
Juneteenth 2022, or June 19, 2022, falls on a Sunday, with some organizations observing the recently declared federal holiday by giving their employees Monday, June 20, off. For workers with access to internal instant messaging (IM) applications and organizational email accounts, consider providing them with templatized out-of-office (OOO) messages and asking them to include them in their IM statuses or automatic OOO email responses. This tells people who contact your employees during the holiday why they can’t be reached, sure, but it can also be an opportunity to talk about your organization’s Juneteenth celebration and observance. In other words, depending on limits to characters and word counts, of course, the messages can say more than, “I’m out of the office.” You could get creative and include some facts about the holiday or discuss why your organization has chosen to recognize it and give its employees time off.
4. Serve traditional Juneteenth foods
Serving food for Juneteenth isn’t solely for nourishing celebrators. Uniting around food is an integral Juneteenth tradition, so don’t hesitate: Prepare the serving trays. While planning the menu, consider incorporating foods with historical ties to Juneteenth. For example, ADP plans to serve Texas-style barbecue, an homage to the Lone Star State’s historical connection to Juneteenth and barbecue’s presence at various 19th-century Juneteenth celebrations. Additionally, red foods and an array of delicious sides are traditionally served on Juneteenth.
5. Incorporate celebratory tunes
Musical performances have been a Juneteenth tradition since Texans began celebrating the holiday in 1866. In recognition, consider including live or recorded music, dancing and singing as part of your celebration as well. For example, ADP is partnering with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to bring live music to its Roseland, Florham Park and Parsippany, New Jersey locations. Could you do something similar with local musicians? If you need musical inspiration and song options, there are plenty of Juneteenth streaming-service playlists with favorites like “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
6. Get active on social media
Consider publishing posts about your organization’s Juneteenth celebration on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms to raise awareness of the holiday. You could also share your organization’s point of view on Juneteenth, talk about its significance and traditions and discuss the different ways you’re celebrating. Large organizations with employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs) can also leverage their internal employee channels to get the word out and share memorable moments from any location-specific celebrations. ADP, for example, is encouraging its BRG chapters and engagement groups to host local celebrations, make them their own and share photos with ADP’s headquarters.
As you consider how to celebrate Juneteenth at work, know that there’s no one right way to celebrate. Focus on keeping the mood cheerful, festive, reflective, forward-looking and inclusive.
Official Juneteenth statement from ADP’s Cultivate BRG
“The Cultivate community is excited to celebrate Juneteenth. It celebrates rich African American history and culture that we celebrate throughout our entire organization. It provides a unique opportunity to engage everyone on the topic, which will result in widespread learning opportunities about the holiday. The celebrations and conversations specific to Juneteenth can help further diversity, equity and inclusion, which Cultivate strives to do daily.”