Freedom Day: What is Juneteenth, and how can brands be involved?

Will Cleveland, Strategist, Khoros Strategic Services

I’m Will Cleveland, an Associate Strategist on the Khoros Strategic Services team. I’ve been with Khoros for about 2 years and enjoy what I do to help brands further their relevance in the community more and more each day. In this blog, I’m going to talk about something that’s important to Khoros, and to me: Juneteenth.

Why do we celebrate Juneteenth?

We all know the day — the Fourthth of July. A day full of fireworks and BBQ where we gather at the house, lake, or beach with loved ones to celebrate our country’s independence. Every year since 1776, Americans have used that holiday to celebrate the many freedoms they enjoy. But what many of us forget during our cookouts and fireworks displays is that even as white Americans gained independence, African Americans were still enslaved during this time — having little freedom to celebrate.

It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 where a Union general rode into Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves had been freed.

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being signed into law two years before, it couldn’t be effectively enforced until the war was over. That’s why it took over two years for more than 250,000 enslaved Texans to learn about their newfound freedom from the government. This huge milestone, which we now call Juneteenth, created a day of celebration both for the Black community and for Americans in general. It marks the ways in which rights have been and continue to be systematically denied to African Americans. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, but it’s also a call to action to make sure every American can one day enjoy the same freedoms.

What Juneteenth means to me

Learning the history

Being a part of the Black community in America means making sure I understand the meaning and history of this holiday — and more importantly, the suffering my ancestors faced to make it to this huge milestone. As I dig deeper into the holiday and Black history as a whole, I find it increasingly important for me to celebrate the momentous occasion and, even more so, spread the knowledge on to my loved ones and others alike.

In my family, we only ever celebrated fourth of July for obvious reasons: It was the only Independence Day observed, or at least widely celebrated, in the US I was never taught much about Black history in grade school, and I certainly never learned about Juneteenth or its significance to American history.

It wasn’t until my college years that I started taking courses geared towards a more inclusive view of history — and Black history in particular. After lightly touching on some historic events in the Black community in these courses, I started to do more research, and of course ran into where it all became official: Freedom Day. It’s important for me and those close to me to know what this day entails, how it came about and what it means to my culture. From then on, I always found a way to further my education not only around this topic but Black history as a whole.

Applying what I’ve learned

After discovering Freedom Day, I wondered how I could continue the same traditions I’d always enjoyed with my family on the fourth of July, but with a different meaning behind them. And it clicked — implement things that signify Black culture into a day of celebrating. To me, this meant all of the small details that make up Black culture: music, barbecuing, gathering, line dances, Black aesthetics, all of it. This allowed me to embrace my culture on a day that was meant for my community and signifies our freedom to be all-encompassing.

Of course, 2020 was a very interesting year for us all, to say the least. George Floyd’s murder hit particularly close to home for me as a Black male. I know that could have been, and one day still could be, me. Because of that, I knew that year’s Juneteenth celebration had to be extra special — and better yet, dedicated to him.

After celebrating, I knew I couldn’t keep this rich history to myself — I had to spread it around! But not only by word of mouth; it needed to go further: person-to-person, lesson-to lesson, even brand-to-brand. Of course, social media is a powerful tool, and what quicker way to spread the word? How better for a brand to show up for their customers, the Black community, and allies of the Black community than providing a history lesson or show of support?

After the death of George Floyd and the uprise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, many brands showed their stance of solidarity with the Black community and the injustice of police cruelty on Black individuals on social media. And that was amazing to see, especially since so few brands had ever spoken up in support of the Black community before last year.

But many, many brands failed to highlight any other important moments in Black culture, such as Juneteenth, despite their initial message of continued support of the Black community. And of course, with this came backlash. Users took to social media to call out certain brands for using the #BlackLivesMatter moment to jump on the trending-train, despite a history of failing to amplify their voice in support of the Black community.

If it isn’t obvious, don’t be like those brands! It’s important to follow up with your community after showing them support, rather than just doing so to jump in on the current trend.

The tragic injustices the Black community faces aren’t just a trend — they’re our reality.

So, what can you and your brand do?

How brands can get involved on Juneteenth

Brands need to show continued support for the Black community. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Resources — Share resources with your followers or employees of what Juneteenth is, it’s significance in history, and most importantly, why they should care.

  • Observance — Allocate time for your employees to learn more about the rich history of Black culture, the same way we do for other holidays. It could be a full day, a half day, or even rescheduling an hour-long meeting for them to use that time to do more research about Juneteenth.

  • Education — Urge your consumers to use this time to reflect on Black history and educate themselves around the topics of Black lives. Educating ourselves and those around us is an important part of the process of beginning to understand racial injustice.

This day of celebration should also be used as an opportunity for individuals and companies, particularly ELT members, to think about their DEI efforts and what they are doing as an organization to recognize their current talent and appreciation of Black professionals, along with ways to further their advancement and expand their recruitment efforts to help cater to this community. Basically, walk the same way you talk.

How you can get involved on Juneteenth

Some may wonder whether it’s okay for them to celebrate if they’re not Black. Of course! In fact, you should celebrate. Juneteenth should be recognized by all as the day when all Americans were finally free and equal under the law. Here are some ways that you can help, even if you’re not Black:

  • Support Black-owned businesses: Shopping local empowers your Black community business owners to help kick start their business or further their expansion; even sharing their business on social media helps create exposure for them.

  • Learn more: Watch movies, read literature or listen to podcasts that are centered around Black stories or Black lives to get a better, in-depth perception of what it means to be Black and get a glimpse of Black culture/history.
    • Also, teach. If you have kids or smaller ones in your household or in your family, teach them about systemic racism and its prevalence in society today.

  • Be vocal: Use this time to vocalize your support of the Black community, our history and our continued fight for equality. Share the stories of your Black friends and colleagues if they can’t, or won’t, be heard from anyone else.

  • Listen: Be an open ear for your Black loved ones. We face a lot of daily struggles that many would be surprised to hear about and sometimes, talking helps. Even if you can’t empathize with them, you can sympathize.

While we celebrate an array of moments throughout Black history, Juneteenth marks an important day in our shared history. It emphasizes that nobody is free until everybody is free and shows us that freedom and racial equality are ongoing battles for Black Americans. Remember, Black history is American history.

Black history is American history

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