Juneteenth commemorates the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned from Union soldiers that the war was over and they were free. The news arrived two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, marking June 19, 1865 as the official end to slavery in the U.S.
Considered the oldest nationally observed holiday to mark this historical moment, Juneteenth has been celebrated with parades, festivals, and other activities in Black communities across the country for generations. But for many Americans, awareness of both the holiday and its history didn’t exist before 2020, when conversations about race became amplified during nationwide protests against police brutality.
As a company dedicated to people first, we knew it was important to go beyond the performative to commit to real action. While Juneteenth is set to become a national holiday, marking significant progress, slow recognition at the federal level led us to join hundreds of companies in signing the Juneteenth Pledge. According to Anna Lis Munro, Chief People Officer for EO Products, this is just one of many steps in our ongoing effort towards building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
“We’re participating in a reckoning, and that reckoning is a collective effort to lift our consciousness, acknowledge, and account for parts of our history that have not been previously recognized as they should have been,” Anna Lis explains. “As a company, it’s part of what we can and will do to deepen our commitment to equity, and to right wrongs where we can.”
Inspired and informed by the work of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion - or J.E.D.I. - Collaborative, our company launched an internal employee resource group (ERG) last year as “a resource for people to share more about their experiences, and to conceptualize ideas that we can do from an employee perspective,” says Anais Zuniga, Social/Community Coordinator for EO and Everyone who serves as the group’s facilitator.
“It's been educational in the sense of what it means to have a diversity, equity, and inclusion program within an organization that hasn't had something like that,” Anais says, adding that the central goal of the group is to create a comfortable space for having difficult conversations.
“It's less about, ‘hey, this is what we're doing today,’ and more, what does this mean for the company moving forward? What commitments do we want to make? How do we go about doing that, and what does it look like tactfully? And also being able to have a discussion about some of these more sensitive topics in a safe, private environment,” she explains.
For us, recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday encourages employees to reflect upon the significance of a day that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved African-American more than two years after they were meant to be freed. It’s an opportunity to show meaningful commitment to a broader change in a way we’ve never done before. And we’re all in.
“No effort is too small for a collective good,” Anna Lis says. “The celebration of Juneteenth is absolutely important, and it’s part of our identity now.”