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Juneteenth: Commemorating Black and African American history

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that “all persons held as slaves…are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, freedom didn’t come to those living in states under Confederate control until two years later. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that enslaved people in the state were free by executive order. The day came to be known as Juneteenth.

Black Texans began celebrating Juneteenth in 1866, one year after the first Juneteenth. Over the next decades, as formerly enslaved people moved to neighboring states and across the country, celebrations of the holiday began spreading, too. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation that established Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday.

“I was thrilled when the President signed that legislation,” said Chuck Rose III, a specialty sales consultant with U.S. Medical Products and Distribution who lives and works in Richmond, Virginia. Rose is also co-chair of the field chapter of our BOLD employee resource group (ERG) for Black and African American employees and their allies and advocates. “As an adult, I have enjoyed the end of one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history. In Black communities, the day is celebrated with joy, in the form of parades, street festivals, musical performances and cookouts.”

However, he said, “As the number of people who learn what Juneteenth is all about grows, the holiday’s traditions are facing new pressures. There are new laws and restrictions in states across the country that limit what schools are allowed to teach about history and racism. There are companies who use Juneteenth as a marketing opportunity without understanding why the holiday is important, and people who party without knowing what the day represents. There is still much work to do.”

We asked two other employees, both active in BOLD, to share what Juneteenth means to them.

Embracing Juneteenth: A journey of heritage and hope for my children

Tasia Kirklin in Houston, Texas. Kirklin is a manager in clinical operations within Cardinal Health’s Global Manufacturing and Supply Chain, and co-chair of our BOLD field chapter.

Juneteenth is a significant holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. As an adult with two Black children – a teen daughter and a young son – this day holds profound personal meaning. It serves as a reminder of the progress made, the resilience of our community, and the ongoing journey toward equality and justice.

Celebrating Juneteenth with my children allows me to instill in them a sense of pride in their heritage, educate them about our history, and inspire them to continue striving for a better future.

When I was younger, my family did not celebrate or talk about Juneteenth. I think it was not purposely ignored; I believe my family didn’t have knowledge of this day of commemoration. I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, where educating the youth about slavery highlighted stories from plantation life, the integration of schools, and the Christmas Eve bonfire festivals that trace back 300 years. (No one knows the exact history of the bonfire festivals: Some say they originated with slaves who built fires on the levees of Southern Louisiana to help them escape to freedom.)

It was only after graduating from college and starting my first corporate job that I learned about Juneteenth. But even then, there was more focus on celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday than honoring Juneteenth. As I began researching my heritage, culture, and background, I discovered more about Juneteenth and its significance. I was surprised to learn that I lived only four hours from Galveston Bay, where the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation took place.

Now, 10 years later, I consider myself a Houstonian, and am deeply committed to understanding and celebrating Juneteenth. I am dedicated to educating my children about the holiday and ensuring they appreciate its importance and the legacy it represents.

A call to action

Chauna Mason in Dublin, Ohio. Mason is senior specialist in quality compliance on the Corporate Quality and Regulatory team.

Juneteenth wasn't a word in my vocabulary until a few years ago. Growing up, the 4th of July was fireworks and picnics, the day we celebrated America's freedom. But now, Juneteenth has become a powerful reminder that freedom wasn't a one-size-fits-all event in this country. Learning about enslaved people in Texas not receiving news of their liberation until 1865 shattered the illusion of a quick and unified emancipation.

Juneteenth feels like a piece of history that I'm just starting to understand, a historical footnote finally getting its spotlight. At first, I viewed it as a celebration of resilience. It  was a day to acknowledge the strength and perseverance of Black people in America, especially those who endured the horrors of slavery.

This year, I lead the BOLD programming team’s effort in planning a Juneteenth Celebration at Cardinal Health’s Dublin, Ohio, headquarters. While doing research for the event, I was inspired by the powerful acts of self-determination by formerly enslaved people. They did not wait for people to give them freedom. They paved the long road to liberation themselves. They formed centers where they could learn, socialize, and organize politically. And during the period of Reconstruction (1865-1877), they actively took up the rights and opportunities given to them by the government to find equality and create the lives that many dreamed of, and all deserved. Learning  this made me realize that the origins of Juneteenth were more than celebrating strength and resilience; Juneteenth celebrates the success of formerly enslaved people, despite much resistance.

Now I view Juneteenth not only as a reminder of the fullness of Black life, the beauty and joy that thrived despite everything; it is also a call to action. Juxtaposing current events with the history of Juneteenth, it is clear that freedom is a constant journey. With this newfound awareness comes a responsibility to use my voice to challenge injustice and to do what I can to ensure that the future is more equitable.

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