Centering joy: Promoting Juneteenth education internally

It’s all about finding the right content mix and cadence for your employee audience.

Juneteenth, held each year on June 19th to commemorate the day that the last enslaved people in Texas were granted their freedom, is an opportunity to evaluate how your initiatives and messaging celebrate and commemorate the freedom of Black Americans. But when DE&I language is under a political microscope, it’s also important to remember that you can’t just put a statement out into a vacuum – it’s got to bear some meaning.

Here’s how some top comms pros and experts are planning internally for Juneteenth this year.

Education through a lens of celebration

Most communicators understand that authenticity builds trust among employees. But when dealing with Juneteenth, additional care needs to be taken to ensure that messaging is coming from a real place.

According to Pooja Samuel Murphy, people operations manager at EasyLlama, communicators working to raise up Black voices must be careful not to put the onus of education about the holiday on the people it’s celebrating.

“It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the unoppressed,” Samuel Murphy said. “Ask Black employees at your organization if they would like to share how they acknowledge or celebrate Juneteenth. Oftentimes when we center Black voices, we can also center the trauma and violence Black folks have endured.”

Remember that tone matters.

“Be mindful of asking your employees to speak to the joys of being Black,” Samuel Murphy continued. “and not solely focus on the challenges or how resilient they’ve been in the face of racism and discrimination.”

This year, Samuel Murphy will address Juneteenth in EasyLlama’s monthly culture newsletter through an intersectional lens that acknowledges Juneteenth occurs during Pride.

“Specifically, it’ll be about celebrating Black trans folks while also speaking to the continued struggles and barriers they encounter,” she said.

Unifying forces and learning for leaders

While Juneteenth is a celebration of the Black community, it doesn’t mean your campaign can’t impact everyone in the organization. That often starts with getting the importance of the message across to leadership.

Daria Hookfin, president of Hooked on ENT,  is the publicist for  Dr. Opal Lee, an activist and Presidential Medal of Freedom award winner and dubbed the “Grandmother of Juneteenth”.  These efforts include “Opal’s Walk for Freedom”, a major Juneteenth commemorative march taking in cities around America and countries across the world.

Communicating around this event taught Hookfin that education at every level of your organization, from top to bottom, is a foundational step.

“(Leadership) education is so important,” Hookfin said. “The more leadership can understand how Juneteenth is a unifier, they will be able to promote diversity and inclusion initiatives within workplaces, fostering a culture of awareness and respect for different cultural backgrounds.”

Danielle Veira, founder and CEO of Minerva’s Legacy, added that leaders should take advantage of the opportunity to set an example of learning for their employees.

“The beauty of Juneteenth being relatively new to most corporate calendars is that it allows for a moment of education,” Veira said.

“Leaders can be honest and vulnerable about their own journeys to enlightenment when it comes to learning what Juneteenth means and why commemorating it as a national holiday is so important for Black Americans.”

Varied perspectives in the review process

While it’s certainly important to showcase diverse voices, be sure to also them as part of the iterative comms process. Integrating diverse perspectives along the entire comms journey will help create a more holistic view of a story.

“Having a diverse group that reviews major communications or campaigns in advance can also help avoid issues,” said Valerie Rochester, chief equity and impact officer at CHC: Creating Healthier Communities. “It’s also important not to use one person as the representative of an entire community, as all communities, even if they have shared experiences, are diverse and the people within them are unique.”

One potential solution is offering employees opportunities to share their experiences through your comms channels. Tapping into Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) is a great starting point to showcase historically underrepresented voices.

Trust is the cornerstone upon which employee engagement is built, and that’s especially true in Juneteenth comms. That means celebrating wins, but also acknowledging when you come up short and working to constantly improve.

“Be transparent about where you are missing the mark,” Samuel Murphy said. “Where are the gaps in equity within your organization and what steps could you take to address them? This creates trust and demonstrates authenticity in how your organization approaches DE&I.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports and hosting trivia.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.