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Reflecting on the Meaning of Juneteenth

Alice Rodman

June 27, 2023

Juneteenth is a U.S. federal holiday commemorating the anniversary of June 19, 1865, the day Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and relayed U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for enslaved African Americans held in the Confederacy. By doing so, Granger put the Emancipation Proclamation into full effect. The name Juneteenth was derived by combining June and nineteenth.

It’s a day to not only celebrate but, more importantly, to reflect on and acknowledge the experiences of African Americans, the history that has shaped those experiences, as well as the significant contributions made by the community at large.

This year, through Rocket Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (RIDE), four Black Rocketeers came together to participate in a fireside chat on the topic. The conversation included Rocket Software’s Darlene Williams, Senior Vice President and CIO, Pierre Washington, Senior Manager, Software Engineering, and Aleezah Washington, Associate People Operations Partner, and me, Alice Rodman, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Program Manager.

Our group had a thoughtful conversation filled with their own personal perspectives as well as some history and learning along the way. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the event.

Sharing and Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth as a holiday has been celebrated by African Americans predominantly in the southern and southwestern regions of the United States for over 150 years, but the day only recently became a federal holiday in the U.S. in 2021. Ever since then, recognition of the date has been steadily growing. For some, it’s a newer holiday, and for others, it’s been an important part of their own personal experiences for as long as they can remember.

For Darlene, Juneteenth wasn’t always a part of her upbringing in the same way that other days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day were. However, no matter the holiday, whether it’s Juneteenth or another date of significance, Williams and her family make sure to celebrate, as she says, with their dollars. They are intentional in spending money with businesses that reflect diverse ownership, diverse products, and are aligned on important social justice issues.

Similarly to Darlene, Aleezah hadn’t celebrated Juneteenth regularly, having grown up in a predominantly white area that did not have a lot of people that looked like her. For her, the holiday has been a journey of self-discovery, learning more about herself and taking the time to understand more about what the day means to her own personal experiences. Nowadays, she actively celebrates Juneteenth, making a point to support and spend with Black-owned businesses that align with her own values.

Juneteenth has long been at the forefront for Pierre, who has celebrated the day as far back as middle school. Growing up, Juneteenth was an important way to come together as a family and community and celebrate. As a college student and member of the Black Student Union on campus, Washington carried that celebration of Juneteenth with him, helping put on a program for the whole school.

Ensuring an Equitable Manifestation of Freedom

Juneteenth marks a pivotal milestone and it’s important to reflect on what it means to be free. Our panelists shared their thoughts on where we stand today as a society, and what still needs to be done.

To Pierre, his own experiences in school — learning history and seeing images of Black Americans depicted as enslaved or impoverished — made it difficult to build a sense of belonging and pride in being Black, and this had really had a lasting impact on him. Pierre believes the place to start is with ensuring conversations around this history work to create a sense of belonging for Black Americans. Echoing that sentiment, Aleezah explained part of achieving that goal starts with being truthful in how we educate ourselves about history, particularly at a younger age. Education was also a common thread for Williams. She also noted that an important piece of freedom is having agency over one’s own life.

Sharing the Genius, Beauty, Talent, Resilience, and Creativity of the Black Community

Part of Juneteenth is celebrating the achievements and innovations that have come from those in the Black community. And in that spirit, we turned to our panelists to highlight and share some Black-led organizations or cultural resources—and the individuals behind them—that are important to them and to driving awareness and facilitating inclusion.

The answer to that for Aleezah sits close to home with her family. Born into a family of creatives, each member is involved in their own Black-owned businesses and endeavors, which helps her find inspiration and a warm community. Williams recommends reading some of the works of author Malcolm Gladwell. His books Blink and Talking to Strangers give great insight into avoiding making snap judgments about others—a skill that’s so important to creating a more inclusive world. Finally, Pierre recommends exploring some of the PBS documentaries made by Henry Louis Gates Jr. that highlight some of the contributions and struggles that the Black community have experienced throughout history. His works present a very insightful look at the U.S. from the civil war to Reconstruction and all the way up to today.

Personally, I recommend the documentary I Am Not Your Negro based upon the works of James Baldwin as well as Baldwin's book The Fire Next Time.

In order to progress from emancipation to true freedom and equality, it’s vital to keep these critical conversations going. Accessing uncensored education and sharing our personal experiences will help us to better realize the promise of being created equal and possessing unalienable rights.

We encourage everyone to take time to reflect and educate themselves on the history that comes with this holiday. Conversations like these are part of our efforts to build an environment that fully embodies Rocket Software’s values of empathy, humanity, trust, and love. Learn more about Rocket Software and our commitment to inclusion, diversity, and equity.