Celebrating Juneteenth: Lessons From a White Mom With a Black Son

Juneteenth is much more than a day off of work — it’s a historic milestone that honors the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. For Juneteenth, we at SAGE Business Counsel take time to reflect on this moment in history and learn important lessons about equality, justice, and freedom.

But for my part, specifically, celebrating Juneteenth is much more than just a day to honor the end of a dark period of American history. This holiday allows me to sit in reflection and gratitude, honoring my son, my beautiful Black boy. For him, growing up in America is quite a quandary. 

While the US Census counts him as “white” because I am, the world sees him only as “Black.” Juneteenth marks one of many times in the year that we get to face the deep trenches of American racial divides squarely along with everyone else but from our unique vantage point as a family of mixed skin colors and the scars that go along with them. 

As my son grows older and his boyish naivete wears off more and more, we dig deeper into this subject. My privilege and whiteness become more and more visible to me as I share and learn with and from him. Together, we remove the masks forced upon us by society and we demonstrate the power of authentic love that can be created from entrenched societal pain. 

For some business owners and leaders, Juneteenth may seem difficult to honor effectively. It may bring a sense of guilt or regret, recognizing that despite the strides we have made, we still have a lot more to do to make our workplaces free of bias and privilege. 

Don’t be discouraged: Juneteenth is a great time to turn your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives into action. You can implement strategies that recognize and address the injustices that still exist to this day, all while supporting Black stakeholders with renewed vigor. 

Are you ready to turn your words into action this Juneteenth? Check out these ideas to celebrate this important holiday in a meaningful way:

1. Educate Yourself and Your Team

Before planning any Juneteenth activities, take the time to educate yourself and your team about the history and significance of Juneteenth. Read books, listen to podcasts and watch documentaries that detail the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of Black Americans throughout history. 

Understand that Black culture is an integral part of our society, but it too suffers from its own shortcomings as rising out of a culture that has remained hostile to “outsiders”. Some resources like the podcast called “Louder than a Riot” explore the intersection between the rise of hip-hop and mass incarceration in the U.S., and detail the struggles that Black America still faces even within its own culture and norms.  

“Into America” is a show that dives into the Black experience in the U.S., ranging from influential Black fashion designers to conversations about mental health. These important but seemingly controversial resources can help you and your team deepen your appreciation for the nuances that arise within Black America so that you can remain allied and not tone deaf. 

If you want to take it a step further and put action into your workplace efforts, you can collaborate with Black DEI consultants and experts who provide training and seminars to businesses that want to strengthen inclusivity. With knowledge gained from these resources, you can create a more meaningful celebration that aligns with the true spirit of Juneteenth. 

The last thing Black people want is another whitewashed holiday that ignores today’s reality, which is no longer just about access but rather about inclusion and integration of Black culture into workplace norms. 

2. Support Black-Owned Businesses

Black entrepreneurs contribute so much to the nation’s economy and culture, but statistics show that they don’t get the same opportunities as other entrepreneurs. Black-founded startups accounted for just 1% of venture investments in the U.S. in 2022, for example (Source: Fortune.com). 

As a business leader yourself, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is. Consider partnering with Black-owned vendors, suppliers, and service providers for your business needs. You can also showcase their products and services on your social media platforms to provide extra exposure and support. 

You can implement strategies that recognize and address injustices, all while supporting Black stakeholders with a renewed vigor when celebrating Juneteenth.

It has been my great pleasure to speak intimately with my own friends in order to learn more about the unique challenges that minority business owners face. On a trip to Washington, DC last summer, I was encouraged to sit among thousands of diverse entrepreneurs who were advocating for small businesses on the Hill. Many of them were Black business owners struggling with access to capital, talent acquisition, supply chain issues, and others. 

Reach out and connect with your neighbors and learn about their challenges on the entrepreneurial journey. You can lean on each other and honor the similar and different issues that you face, recognizing that everyone is on their own path and can use the help of a village.

3. Give Back to the Community

Go beyond the workplace and make an even bigger difference by organizing fundraisers for Black-owned charities. Several Black charities are doing incredible work to empower communities in a wide range of spaces, from education to healthcare (check out this directory to help you get started). If you want to double your impact, consider setting up a donation matching program as well.

You can also plan a volunteer event for your employees with nonprofits that are dedicated to supporting Black communities in your area. Consider taking a couple of hours off work with your team to volunteer together — it’s a great way to build comradery while making a difference in your own community (make sure to pay your employees for their time). Or, you can give your employees a couple of paid volunteer hours in June so they can volunteer with a nonprofit of their choice.

4. Cultivate an Inclusive Work Environment

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Truly inclusive workplaces prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion across all parts of the business. Assess your business practices, policies, and hiring/retention/bonus processes to ensure they promote equality and fairness. You can also promote diversity in your marketing campaigns, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and decision-making processes to nurture a welcoming and equitable environment.

It’s important to encourage open conversations about racial equality in the workplace as well, in addition to providing safe spaces for employees to share their experiences and perspectives. You can offer diversity and inclusion training sessions, workshops, or panels to foster understanding and unity.

Go Beyond One Day a Year

 Celebrating Juneteenth in a meaningful way requires genuine effort. By educating yourself, engaging with the community, amplifying Black voices, supporting Black-owned businesses and cultivating inclusivity within your organization, your business can honor the significance of Juneteenth while contributing to a more equitable society.

Remember that Black people and communities face injustices every single day. Taking action once a year isn’t enough to shift things in the right direction, so consider implementing these strategies throughout the year as well. That’s where the real work begins.

As a white mom with a Black son, I know my work is 24/7/365 and I have witnessed racism, oppression, and ignorance firsthand. I hope this candid and heartfelt reminder can show you too how important it is to honor and support our Black brothers and sisters each and every day of the year no matter how daunting it may seem. 

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