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Juneteenth: America’s “Newest” Holiday – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Holidays are a reflection of our collective values. As a
society, we hope they signal what—and sometimes whom—we
as a nation should commemorate
. Last summer, we observed
Juneteenth for the first time, collectively recognizing the
official end of slavery in the United States. This year, we
continue to find ways to meaningfully observe the newest national
holiday.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Outside of New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Independence Day,
and George Washington’s Birthday (President’s Day), the
first citizen-focused holiday in the United States was celebrated
almost 130 years ago with the celebration of Labor Day, which
recognizes laborers’ works and contributions to the
country’s development. More recently, in 1983, President Ronald
Reagan signed the bill to add MLK Day as a national holiday in
honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to
the civil rights movement.

Often lost in many discussions about MLK Day is the fact that
the journey to create the holiday—which began just four days
after King’s assassination in 1968—took 15 years to
establish. Despite the designation, the day wasn’t observed
officially until 1986. Even then, it still took nearly two more
decades before all 50 states recognized the holiday.

In the summer of 2020, America was ensnared in a social and
racial reckoning unlike any seen in recent history. Despite the
uncertainty, the year proved to be a time of immense growth and
necessary vulnerability. Ultimately, it served as a resounding
rallying call to simply do the right thing. For what seemed like
the first time in a long while, people were inspired to change
their perceptions, and the world was challenged to prioritize
understanding over judgment, including the timely creation of a new
federal holiday.

BACKGROUND ON JUNETEENTH

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger issued General
Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, announcing “all slaves are
free” in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation (issued
some three years earlier). In 2021, 156 years later, America
memorialized the important milestone. For the first time,
Juneteenth was observed as an official federal holiday. For
reference, only four new holidays have been added to the national
calendar in the past 100 years.

Fortunately, much has changed since the difficult road to honor
Dr. King’s momentous legacy. Much of the work and healing
leading up to Juneteenth’s observance, however, was expedited
by the racial and socioeconomic disparities amplified by 2020’s
events. This significant accomplishment should serve as a reminder
that our commitment to build a truly equal and equitable nation is
just that: a commitment.

In a time when corporate initiatives and well-intentioned
pledges to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are the
norm, these public displays of solidarity generally have an
expiration date; they are not easily sustainable. The main focus of
these efforts should not be on the acts themselves, but the
long-term impact they will have on those within an
organization’s sphere of influence. Our newest holiday should
be a constant reminder that our responsibility to be kind to one
another never ceases. In fact, kindness may be the most important
charge we have as human beings.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a U.S. citizen, military veteran, and African American, I am
proud of the progress we have achieved in a few short years.
Nevertheless, reflection serves as a reminder that we as a country
still have far to go. Allies are still needed in spaces where the
voices of diverse communities historically have not been heard.

Until we all advocate in some capacity against overt, systemic,
and subconscious injustices, we will all suffer as a result. The
annual observance of Juneteenth can and should be the constant
spark that ignites a renewed American spirit, and I am hopeful for
the change and growth it will undoubtedly bring.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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