By Rudy Favard
This year I’m more encouraged than ever to celebrate Juneteenth, in light of our country’s current racial climate. While still mourning the deaths of unarmed Black people across the U.S., this is a time to remember what the Black community has conquered, and what we have yet to overcome.
My Haitian immigrant parents taught me Black history through a Caribbean lens. On January 1, 1804, Haiti was the first Black country to gain its Independence, but while my Haitian roots run deep, I quickly learned that, regardless of my direct ancestry, America sees me as a Black man.
To help me embrace the duality of being Haitian American and, importantly, being Black in America, I made it a point to learn about Black American history, including the significance of Juneteenth.
The oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth also celebrates the liberation for ALL Black people in America. The name ‘"Juneteenth" is derived from the date of the official end of slavery, June 19, 1865, and it has come to be known as ‘"Black Independence Day."
On that day, General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended, and the slaves were now free. Even though President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, there was no way to enforce it during the war, and it would be more than two and a half years before those in Texas would even know about their freedom.
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.
While it’s frustrating that we still face these same challenges, 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 upstander and ally. It would have been easy to forget and neglect the slaves of Texas; after all, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that they were free. But 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 upstanders 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 more challenging.
Six months ago, I became a father for the first time. The birth of my daughter has given me a whole new perspective, and I now understand how hard it must have been for my parents to raise a Black child.
I refuse to admit that things won’t change, but I’m also humble enough to admit that they won’t change without the allyship of others, including those in my KPMG community. I want my daughter to grow up and watch me build a career at KPMG, and be proud of where her father works because of the stance the firm took for racial equality in 2020. More than anything, I need my allies to help me drive change, because I don’t want my daughter to grow up ever having to wonder whether her father will make it home at night.
While recognizing Juneteenth can start your road to allyship, 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 you commit yourself to the fight.
Rudy Favard is a senior associate on KPMG's Talent Acquisition team and is based in Montvale, N.J.