Over the past week, I have had some time to reflect on two recent, significant American holidays – Juneteenth and the 4th of July. I have been contemplating these two holidays and their relationship to leadership. How do we as citizens and leaders connect the spirit of intentions from these monumental events and relate their purpose to the present day?
In many of our workplaces these holidays are recognized with decorations, social media postings, emails, and days off from work, but what do these days really mean, and are these activities enough to drive systemic change?
The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, during a time when the American colonies sought independence from British rule. From a historical perspective and context, it was a radical and progressive document. To outline the objections against the British monarchy and proclaim the believed fundamental rights of individuals was truly revolutionary.
The Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal” and have the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While these ideals are still celebrated today, the language of the document and context of the time is indicative of gender inequality and how deeply ingrained slavery still was at the time of its adoption.
Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, more than two years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. The delayed enforcement of emancipation highlights the continued struggle for equality faced by non-white races and the gap between the principles of the Declaration and the lived experiences of those enslaved.
Progress can be slow. It would take until 1870 for black men to obtain the right to vote and until 1920 for women to receive the same right. So how can leaders and HR professionals interpret the words of the Declaration and the actions of Juneteenth to embrace the spirit of universal equality regardless of race, gender, religion, or any other characteristic?
Juneteenth and the 4th of July are reminders of the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. They serve as reminders of the continuous work required of leaders to ensure that the promises of liberty and equality are extended to all individuals, regardless of their race or background.
The Declaration of Independence was a challenge to injustices and assertation of the right to self-governance. Juneteenth was a milestone in the fight for civil rights, humanity, and the inherent worth of all people. I think we must remember that our work in DEI is never finished. It is a journey that will continue to evolve to reflect changing societal values and a broader understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I believe we can draw inspiration from the spirit of these holidays and continue to address systemic injustices and inequalities that persist in society and our workplaces today.
I hope these past holidays have given you the inspiration to make meaningful changes as they have for me. I also hope you are all taking some time to enjoy your summer with your family and friends. I look forward to seeing you on July 11th for our panel discussion about neurodiversity!