June 18, 2024

Celebrating Juneteenth: Employee Perspectives on its Significance

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and holds the distinction of being the longest-running African American holiday. However, it wasn't until 2021 that Juneteenth became a federal holiday, thanks in part to the efforts of activist Opal Lee, also known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth." In 2016, at the age of 89, she organized a walk from Fort Worth, TX to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about Juneteenth. Her mission included delivering a petition to the US Congress with 1.5 million signatures, urging the establishment of a federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed federal legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday in June 2021, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and Lee was at his side.

This past May, Lee was invited back to the White House, this time to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the foremost U.S. civilian honor, from President Biden. “What we’re trying to get people to understand is that Juneteenth is freedom. And I don’t mean just for Black people, or Texas people. It’s freedom for everybody.” – Opal Lee


In honor of Juneteenth, we had the privilege of speaking with members of our Mosaic Employee Resource Group (ERG), for BIPOC employees and allies, to gain insight into their personal connections with Juneteenth, learn about their Black role models and discover how they plan to celebrate this significant day.


Embracing Heritage and Sisterhood

Erin P., Customer Success Specialist, recently joined Cengage Group last year. She shared that Juneteenth represents a profound moment of freedom, liberation and hope. "For me, Juneteenth is not just a historical event; it is a powerful reminder of the enduring spirit and resilience of my ancestors. It is their unwavering hope that paved the way for future generations, including myself, to live in a world where freedom is a fundamental right. Juneteenth is a reminder that the legacy of my ancestors lives on in me and that their hope for a better tomorrow is a torch that I carry forward.”

To connect with and celebrate her rich heritage and culture, Erin followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA), Incorporated, the first African American Greek-letter sorority founded in 1908 at Howard University. “I take immense pride in being a member of AKA. Our founders were visionary African American, college-educated women who established the sorority with the mission of uplifting the community through education, social justice and service. AKA represents the power of unity, resilience and purposeful action.”


Erin shared that Michelle Obama, is one of her role models, “her eloquence and poise in navigating the complexities of public life inspire me to approach challenges with confidence and composure. She reminds me that leadership is not just about achieving success, but about lifting others and making a meaningful difference in the world.”

For those looking to further educate themselves on Juneteenth, Erin recommended “watching the documentary, Juneteenth 1865-2023: Freedom to Learn produced by a dear friend of mine at KHOU 11.” Honoring the Juneteenth holiday and further educating yourself can contribute to building a more inclusive and diverse environment at home and at work. Erin shared that “the recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday at Cengage Group signals to employees that the African American cultural heritage is valued and respected. It shows a willingness to engage with difficult aspects of history and to celebrate the progress made towards justice and equality. This commitment can inspire all employees to embrace and contribute to a culture that values all individual’s unique contributions and perspectives.”

Erin plans to celebrate Juneteenth by attending an annual celebration held in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. “The festival offers a rich array of activities including parades, cultural performances, live music, local vendors and educational workshops. I look forward to coming together with others in the spirit of unity, solidarity and hope for the future.”


Reflection and Education

Valerie Ross, Learning Associate, has been working at Cengage Group for three and a half years. She described Juneteenth as a day of reflection. “It allows me to remember and acknowledge that although many people in the United States were free from Great Britain in 1776 as celebrated on July 4, the last of Black people didn’t learn of their freedoms until July 19, 1865, two years after the emancipation proclamation.” Valerie’s family also celebrates Thanksgiving in a similar way, as a day of reflection. “We enjoy Thanksgiving not because of it’s history, but because we use it as an opportunity to reflect upon the blessings that we have received throughout the year. Up to 5 generations of family gather to lift one another up and show our gratitude to one another as well as our ancestors.”

Valerie is looking forward to celebrating Juneteenth at work and in her personal life. She explained that “celebrating Juneteenth in the workplace acknowledges the understanding that freedom for some did not equate to freedom for all. It is crucial for the workplace to expand its perspective beyond the traditionally celebrated holidays, as the foundations of this land were not originally built on principles of inclusivity.” Educating people on Juneteenth is something that Velerie is passionate about, this year she plans on hosting a Juneteenth brunch for a diverse group of friends. “I decided to host this same group in 2021 after a comment was made about Juneteenth not being the end of slavery. Hosting the dinner provided a warm and welcoming opportunity for me to share the significance of Juneteenth history and what it means to me. I look forward to sparking further conversations this year.”


When we asked Valerie who her role model is, she shared that her mother is who has inspired her throughout her life. “She grew up in the deep South where freedom wasn’t truly freedom. The laws for many weren’t the laws for her and her family. However, she always instilled in us that we could become whatever we desired and worked to achieve. She lived that spirit through her own self determination and passed that along to her family.” Valerie urges everyone to dedicate some time to read about the history of Juneteenth to truly understand its significance. She noted that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Urban Milwaukee have excellent articles about Juneteenth yearly.


Inspiring the Next Generation

Ronald F., Client Success Manager, has worked here for three years. He shared that Juneteenth is significant to him in many ways. “It shows what African Americans went through, and what they can ultimately achieve. For my ancestors, Juneteenth represented their Independence Day, granting them long overdue freedoms and the opportunities to shape our country into what it is today.” Ronald is proud of the diverse history of his ancestors, and he explained, “you can't write the story of America without our history. I take pride in knowing that our history is being taught, and that our history is being researched.”

Ronald feels that recognizing Juneteenth in the workplace is essential to building a more inclusive and diverse environment. “Those who might not know what it is, will know the significance of the day because it is becoming more widely recognized and celebrated. They will learn about the past, both good and bad. Incorporating and recognizing significant days of all cultures is a priority.”

Although Ronald gets inspiration from many individuals, he shared that President Barack Obama is a role model that he holds in high regard. “I never thought I would see an African American President. His presidency showed how far our country has come, and how far are our country is capable of going. Now, African American parents can truly tell their children, that one day, they can be President of the United States.” As a new father, Ronald finds it crucial to use this as an example that anything is possible.


This Juneteenth, Ronald is excited to take his wife and daughter to local celebrations, creating new memories together. He hopes that people will take time to reflect and educate themselves on Juneteenth and recommended On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed as a great resource.


Celebrating Black American Culture

Tracey M., Manager, Gale In Context, has been working at Cengage Group for a remarkable twenty two years! She shared that Juneteenth is significant to her because “it represents the actual date my ancestors were liberated in America. While July 4th commemorates America’s liberation from Britain and establishes the United States of America, African Americans were still enslaved in our country for almost another 100 years. Making Juneteenth a federal holiday solidifies the day of true freedom for all Americans.” She added that “America is a melting pot of diversity. Recognizing Juneteenth and other significant events for people of color, often left out of the history books, is an important step in understanding and celebrating the diverse experiences of all Americans.”

Similar to Erin and Ronald, Tracey expressed that both Barack and Michelle Obama are her ultimate Black role models, both individually and as a couple. “My son was born during Barack Obama’s presidency. Growing up in the time of the first Black president has had a profound effect on him, affirming his identity and opportunities in America. I deeply admire Michelle Obama for her rise in corporate America, her initiatives as the First Lady, her strong family values, and her authenticity. She not only embodies the American dream but also embodies the qualities I aspire to possess as a woman, mother, wife and catalyst for change in society."

Tracey resonates strongly with her heritage and explained that she “loves all aspects of Black American culture from our music, food, artistry, and hairstyles to our skin tones, resilience and cool factor! Our culture originates from rich African traditions merged with the shared experiences and contributions of people of African descent in America.” To learn more about Black Culture and Juneteenth, Tracey recommended several documentaries including 13th on Netflix, Juneteenth: A Celebration of Overcoming on Hulu, and Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom on PBS. She also recommended the movie, Miss Juneteenth, streaming on Netflix, Apple TV, Google Play and Vudu. Tracey added, “an important part of my role as Manager of Gale In Context is to ensure that our digital content reflects the diversity of our customers and users by highlighting significant historical events such as Juneteenth.”



Learn More:

To delve deeper into Juneteenth, we invite you to explore this blog, where Cengage Group's U.S. History subject matter experts have curated a list of recommended readings. These resources shed light on Black agency from the Civil War era, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Juneteenth (June 19, 1865), extending into the early stages of Reconstruction. Additionally, you can also refer to last year's blog, where members of the Mosaic ERG shared their personal perspectives on the significance of Juneteenth.