Like the ticking hands of a clock, change takes time. Whether it's an immediate response—like the one our organization took last June—or a prolonged one, change takes time.
On January 1st, 1863 former President, Abraham Lincoln, signed and issued the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19th, 1865 (YES, almost two and a half years later), Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with news the Civil War had ended. In addition, Granger informed all listeners that the document Lincoln signed gave enslaved people freedom, equality as human beings and released them from their owner’s possession.
This week, on June 16th, 2021 (one hundred and fifty-six years after the original Juneteenth) the United States Senate Congress passed the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
The news left me feeling torn.
On one hand, I was thrilled the Senate unanimously voted on something and that this something was a celebration of Black liberation in America. On the other hand, I felt as if this public declaration may be a form of posturing or gaslighting. For all general purposes, we (the 49 states except for South Dakota…) were already acknowledging this day in some form or fashion! While I am glad that it is now a paid federal holiday, I can’t help but think of the 156 years it took to get that Bill written and agreed upon. Unanimously.
But it was also a reminder.
My grandmother has taught me a lot in my life, and she is still imparting her wisdom upon me today. In a moment like this she would say “Devi-Pooh, the BIBLE says (very much emphasizing “Bible”) in Galatians 6:9 says, ‘Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in DUE SEASON, we shall reap if we faint not.’” Although I can sometimes do without the full sermons over crusty apple pie and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, I must say she is correct. Having largely participated in the Civil Rights movement, she understands firsthand the importance of resiliency and fortitude. I am thankful for her legacy.
So, no matter how you may have felt upon the announcement of Juneteenth being fully recognized as a paid holiday, take heart that this indeed is change. Remember that even if things are not celebrated on a national level, that does not forfeit the importance of that day’s celebration.
Be encouraged. Because change takes time. Be it an immediate response or a prolonged one, change takes time. But surely, it’s happening!
I was delighted by the stance Women for Women International took last year toward equity and inclusion. The desire of our leadership team to create change did not stop with the posting of an externally facing black square on our social media page and an abbreviated statement saying “Black lives matter” (Yes, FULL shade to the companies that did this… full shade). Instead we are changing the fabric of our organization in actionable and impactful ways.
Along with making Juneteenth an official holiday, we have taken several steps to advance the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of our team including, but not limited to:
Conducted a Global Staff Engagement Survey
Created a DEI Working Group at our HQ office, composed of both Senior and Junior staff from a variety of teams/departments
Conducted several trainings with external DEI consultants on Microaggressions, Implicit Bias [others] with all HQ Staff, as well as Managers
Created Global DEI Framework/Principles
Overhauled recruitment strategy in the UK
Conducted a Pay Equity Analysis
Created streamlined Job Framework
Created Affinity Groups within our HQ office
This year Women for Women International will continue to celebrate Juneteenth by hosting a celebration with our staff. The theme is “Freedom, Liberation, Community and Remembering History.” With this theme in mind staffers have been invited to submit a creative expression through spoken word, song, dance, canvas, photography, etc.
So, what’s next?
Now that we have a little background on Juneteenth, and what Women for Women International is doing to celebrate the day, you may be wondering how you can celebrate alongside us. How can you celebrate Juneteenth with your family and friends in a way that positively impacts you and the Black community? I’m so glad you asked!
Last year, our C.E.O. Laurie Adams, encouraged us to “use [Juneteenth] as a time to take actionable steps to ultimately achieve the yet realized goal of true emancipation.” Here are a few ways in which you can support that effort.
1. BUY BLACK
Have you been curious to try some of the cuisine in your area from a Black-owned and operated restaurant? How about today? If you live in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) some popular restaurants to try are: Horace and Dickies, KitchenCray, NuVegan Cafe, Oohh's and Aahh's and Haute Dogs and Fries. Food is a great option, but it's not the only option. Support a local play or buy some jewelry for a loved one from an entrepreneurial creative on Etsy. Take a cooking class in person or online. Truly, the possibilities, ways and options to support are endless.
2. ATTEND A LOCAL FESTIVAL
With the increase in visibility to Juneteenth within the last year, cities large and small are hosting festivals. Most of them are even free to attend. Nothing to do on Saturday? Celebrate this day of liberation! Stay hydrated though. It's hot outside, but it’s NOTHING compared to the heat of injustice.
3. THE COLOR IS “RED”
If you decide to attend a cookout on Saturday, you may notice a lot of red. The color is not at all coincidental. The intention is to remember the lives lost while crossing the Atlantic and the bloodshed in the fields laboring in America. In honor of this monumental sacrifice, red velvet cakes are often made along with hibiscus tea. You will also see Red Beans and Rice, which is also a traditional dish of the Beninois people and many cultures around the world share some version of this comfort food.
4. PREPARE FOR THE LONG-HAUL
We are a culture of instant gratification. Feeling hangry? Take out your phone, select your preferred food delivery app and voila, within 30 minutes to an hour, your food of choice is sitting on your doorstep. Sometimes it’s even still hot! Racial equity and systemic change do not work that way. This process requires educating yourself. Voting to change the policies of your local, state, and federal government.
One of the biggest necessities is the willingness to be corrected (Whew, I know that can work on the ego! But it’s so necessary), even when it’s not comfortable. Correction rarely is. This process will take time. Considering legalized slavery in this country went on for 400 years, only 100 years have passed since Black Wall Street and many communities of Black excellence around the country were completely decimated, and Black people were not even considered fully human… Let’s just consider the possibility that opening, unlearning, and relearning may take quite a long time. Be patient, have grace with yourself and stay in the fight.
5. PASS THE TORCH
To again quote my incomparable grandmother, “Each one, teach one!” After you have gained knowledge about Juneteenth and so many other great historical moments of Black history in America, pass it along to your children. Pass it to your neighbor. Share it in conversation while socially distanced from a stranger in the grocery store or gym. Yes, you may get a few odd looks, but that’s okay! The best way to create change is by educating those in our homes, and then spreading this knowledge to those around our homes.
Happy Juneteenth! Go celebrate!