By Michele Meyer-Shipp
Chances are that many more people have learned about Juneteenth in the past month than ever have at any time in the past. There is also a good chance that unless they are Black, they are not aware of its true significance, and the power behind it.
This year, given the horror and heartbreak we’ve witnessed over the past few months, Juneteenth—also known as Black Independence Day—is in many ways more important than ever, and not just to the Black community. The oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, Juneteenth also celebrates allyship, and the courage and commitment of General Gordon Granger to ensure the emancipation of the last remaining slaves in the Confederacy.
In the spirit of General Granger, and the hundreds of thousands of good and brave people who continue to raise their voices and stand up against racial inequality, social injustice, discrimination, and hatred, I ask that you join us in celebrating Juneteenth by becoming an ally. Expand your knowledge and understanding of the issues. Learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And don’t be afraid to reach out, advocate, and be there for each other, especially for your Black colleagues.
To help us start the celebration, we asked three of our colleagues to share their thoughts on Juneteenth. I’m wishing Wendy Lewis, Rudy Favard, Aneka Williams, and all of you a happy Juneteenth!
Michele Meyer-Shipp is chief diversity and inclusion officer for KPMG in the U.S.
Wendy Lewis, Partner, Audit, Richmond
Juneteenth commemorates the day, on June 19, 1865, that General Gordon Granger announced that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. This is significant because although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed the slaves almost two and a half years earlier, enforcement was slow and inconsistent, and many people were still enslaved.
For most of America, Independence Day was celebrated on July 4, 1776. However, the reality is that most of my ancestors were far from free and independent in 1776. Juneteenth is very special and important to me because it symbolizes the end of slavery and the ‘Independence Day’ for Black people in this country. I use the time not only to celebrate the accomplishments of my ancestors, but also to reflect on the history of their courage and strength. Their determination and perseverance is what has enabled me to thrive and flourish today, and for that, I will be forever grateful!
Rudy Favard, Senior Associate, Talent Acquisition, Montvale, N.J.
While the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation were meant to reaffirm the rights and freedoms of all Americans, they haven’t been applied equally, an issue the Black community continues to struggle with today. It’s frustrating that we still face these same challenges, but Juneteenth offers a lesson on how to join the fight for racial equality.
When General Granger established the Union Army’s authority in Galveston and reinforced that the already freed slaves were free indeed, he became an up-stander and ally. That freedom was an illusion until Granger, a White general, stood side by side with the Black Union soldiers to make sure there was independence for all. Today allies have an opportunity to be up-standers by advocating specifically for Black people through the Black Lives Matter Movement. Even in the workplace, allies can fight by combating the micro aggressions that can compound to make the Black experience in corporate America challenging. Juneteenth can start your road to allyship, but it is only a step on the path to progress. True change comes from consistent advocacy, and I hope June 19, 2020, is the day my colleagues commit themselves to the fight.
Aneka Williams, Director, Accounting Advisory Services, Philadelphia
Understanding the significance of Juneteenth compels me to teach others about the cultural and historical meaning of slavery ending here in America.
My family and I celebrate ‘"Freedom Day" to share the values of equality, courage, and community at the annual Juneteenth Festival in the historic Germantown area of Philadelphia. General Granger’s actions are a reminder of true allyship because he did not only empathize, but also took necessary action against the oppression of African Americans during a time of immense unrest.
I encourage everyone to follow in the footsteps of General Granger by modeling the same values of courage to support inclusivity at all levels in our communities. Spreading knowledge and awareness of this pivotal moment in history provides an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow. The COVID-19 pandemic may warrant some changes in the way we will celebrate Juneteenth this year, but I intend to find an outlet to continue the Celebration of Freedom.