August 14, 2023
Nonprofit Technology & Fundraising Blog
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You don’t have to be a Black-led organization to celebrate Black joy. But you should do your best to celebrate it respectfully.
Juneteenth celebrations are an expression of African American pride and they are an opportunity to honor the culture and its experiences. For nonprofits, specifically, June is a time to reflect and honor their organization’s employees, beneficiaries, donors, and volunteers in the Black and LGBT+ communities.
But with the nonprofit sector lagging behind in terms of Diversity & Inclusion work, how can organizations ensure they are celebrating Black culture appropriately?
In 2021, President Biden signed a bill naming June 19th – Juneteenth National Independence Day – a federal holiday. You may have heard of this day called by a different name, such as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or Black Independence Day.
The history: June 19, 1865 marks the official end of slavery in the United States. On that day, two months after the Civil War had ended, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger announced that more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were free. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier, making Texas the last state to free its enslaved people.
The celebration: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture explains that Juneteenth is a time to gather as a family, reflect on the past, and look to the future through this African American cultural tradition of music, food, and freedom.
This event can be sensitive for employees and guests as they reflect on the past – especially those in the nonprofit sector who spend their days championing awareness and equality. Each year, consider the following while planning for a Juneteenth celebration at your nonprofit organization. Here are some tools to get started.
It’s okay to love aspects of another culture. What’s not okay is intentionally changing something about yourself or your surroundings to mimic a minority culture to which you don’t naturally belong. This includes how you present yourself and how you treat your celebration guests.
Avoid celebrations that look or feel stereotypical or insensitive. If you’re not sure about something, be sure to seek guidance. Look to the people on your team whose ancestors were enslaved and ask what feels comfortable for them. If you work with a Diversity & Inclusion specialist or committee, it will be important to discuss your celebration ideas together before settling on one.
If you’re new to learning about cultural appropriation, in a literal sense, this term means taking cultural aspects or identities for one’s own use, usually without credit, and against the wishes of that culture.
Monetizing cultural appropriation for any type of commercial consumption is not a way to celebrate Juneteenth – or anything of cultural significance for that matter – explains Sybil R. Williams, Director of African American and African Diaspora Studies at American University. “Once something is decontextualized, it’s exploited,” she says.
As an employer, avoid a transfer of power in which you are leveraging cultural aspects – like fashion and traditional foods – out of their original context and without permission from originating groups for your organization’s gain.
As a fundraiser, avoid asking donors to contribute to your cause or participate in a fundraising event in celebration of Juneteenth. Instead, Williams recommends speaking with Black constituents and asking what they would like to see that furthers actual Black engagement at your organization.
Diversity & Inclusion Consultant Akilah Cadet advises creating awareness around the connection between the Fourth of July and Juneteenth – African American people were still being enslaved, killed, and abused when white men celebrated their independence in 1776.
The Juneteenth site also recommends supporting Black-owned businesses and organizations because it is one of the most immediately impactful actions anyone can take. Think about the grassroots, ground-level contributions in your community that make a daily impact on work, quality of life, and growth for African Americans. Are there any local initiatives that you can support or draw attention to during your celebration?
Invest in the community that created that culture. Know the particular cultural nuances of original histories and how that group treats its history, and then reflect on the message in this moment of that history to your organization.
– Sybil R. Williams, Director of African American and African Diaspora Studies at American University
Cadet advises that employees should be able to take the day off without experiencing bias. Non-essential federal government offices will be closed on Juneteenth, including banks and post offices, and major corporations like Nike, Uber, and Spotify have designated Juneteenth a paid holiday.
For many, this holiday is ideally celebrated with paid time off due to the link between Juneteenth and slave labor. You may want to survey your employees to determine if they would rather have a day of no contact with their employer, if they would like to celebrate at home, or if they would like to include their family and friends in a shared celebration.
As mentioned, one of the most immediately impactful actions anyone can take is to support Black-owned businesses and organizations. To support your beneficiaries, donors, and volunteers, it is important to make a daily, weekly, and yearly conscious effort to plant these economic seeds and help them grow.
Though holidays, symbols, statues, and flags matter, it will take more than increased recognition of Juneteenth to combat racism. If not followed with substantive change, the relatively recent scramble to acknowledge Juneteenth will just feel like virtue signaling, acts of solidarity that ring hollow.
– Kellie Carter Jackson, Historian, author, educator, and speaker
The Juneteenth website provides the following ideas for celebrating in your workplace and community. For remote workplaces, many of these ideas can be carried out through video conferencing or live streaming.
Above all, ensure that the spirit of Juneteenth (one of reflection and reparation) rings true for your celebration. Tom Feelings, African American artist, author, teacher, and activist summed it up beautifully:
“If this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us together against our wills could, in the telling, become spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future – then that painful Middle Passage could become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us whether living inside or outside the continent of Africa.”