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Juneteenth History and How to Honor It

For many years, the Black American community has celebrated Juneteenth (on June 19) — the longest-running Black American holiday — noting it as a day for healing and advocacy. President Biden signed a bill in 2021 making it a federal holiday.

Understanding the origins of Juneteenth and how to honor it properly is essential, especially for wealth management firms committed to increasing diversity.

What is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure all enslaved people were freed. This federal takeover came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth marks the official end of slavery in the United States. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, and several other states followed suit over the years.

While many people may think the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery, it only applied to areas under Confederate control. Border states with enslaved people or states under Union control were unaffected by the Proclamation.

Ways to honor Juneteenth

Celebrating Juneteenth should be done in a way that keeps Black Americans at the center. Honoring the day should acknowledge the origins of Juneteenth, but also recognize that Black Americans continue to face inequality and systemic racism daily.

With that in mind, here are some ways to honor Juneteenth:

Attend the Freedom Festival. If you live near Washington, D.C., attend the Juneteenth Foundation’s Freedom Festival, a three-day event including an awards show, panel discussion, career fair, and block party. If you’re not in the D.C. area, see what local Juneteenth events you can attend and support.

Support education equity. Even after desegregation, Black students face oppression regarding education. Research shows Black students are less likely to have access to advanced programs but are more likely to be in overcrowded classrooms and to attend under-resourced schools. Many organizations are committed to education equity and justice, and your support can further their missions. The National Urban League is dedicated to advancing African Americans through economic empowerment, equality, and social justice; the Thurgood Marshall College Fund uplifts the educational excellence of Black youth; and 100 Black Men of America strives to create meaningful societal change by focusing on the next generation via mentorship.

Disrupt economic injustice. Continued institutional racism contributes to Black Americans’ challenges in obtaining wealth, attending college, owning a home, or running a business.

Several organizations are working to dismantle these constructs, such as 3 by 30, which has a mission to help new Black homeowners and sustain existing homeowners; SEO (Sponsors for Educational Opportunity) helps youth from “underserved and historically excluded communities” take the next step through academic programs, internships, and networking opportunities; Black Owned Everything hosts a space where Black brands can be validated and celebrated; EatOkra connects consumers with Black-owned eateries in cities across the U.S; and HomeFree-USA is working to close the racial wealth gap by improving homeownership and business opportunities for people of color.

Contribute to criminal justice reform. Research shows that racial disparities still exist at every level of the law, from traffic stops to incarceration. Several organizations are working toward criminal justice reform.

Consider supporting the Equal Justice Initiative, which works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality; The Sentencing Project strives to create a more “fair and effective criminal justice system” and end extreme sentences; and The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s mission is to “transform the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

Educate yourself on Juneteenth. Read books about Juneteenth’s history and learn more about the hardships Black Americans have faced and continue to face. Take a look at professor and best-selling author Tasha L. Wilburn’s Juneteenth reading list and her thoughts on Juneteenth.

No matter how you celebrate Juneteenth, it’s vital to remember that Black Americans continue to face inequality, and genuine freedom can only come when we are all equal. Commercialized celebrations or tokenism aren’t the way to make progress.

If you’re looking for ways to honor Juneteenth at your wealth management firm, consider educating your team and clients on the holiday’s significance. Find local volunteering opportunities that benefit the Black community for you and your teammates.  Volunteering as a group builds strong relationships and increases employee engagement, while simultaneously giving back to your community. ..

Take it a step further, and look inward at your firm’s culture of diversity and inclusion. Revisit DEI goals; consider the progress made but the work left to do. Invest in efforts to uplift your minority team members and help them achieve their goals.

It’s essential to make these considerations all year, not just on significant days. Consistent effort will get us closer to genuine equality and benefit us all.

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