Fireworks… American flags… decadent summer cookouts with loved-ones….
Colloquially referred to as Fourth of July, Independence Day is venerated nationwide. But, despite our collective joy in remembering July 4, 1776, the day we shed Mother England’s shackles, many Americans remained in bondage. Even today, for many descendants of slaves, America’s day of independence is a reminder of a deeply painful history of exclusion from the country’s bounty.
Enter June 19 or Juneteenth, the day that Texas, two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, officially recognized the law that abolished slavery for the first time. Despite the weight of history around that moment, most Americans learned about Juneteenth’s significance for the first time in 2020, a year of racial reckoning. Additionally, Juneteenth’s status as a holiday remains unofficial even though this is the day that all Americans were finally, legally free. Why? Some would say America has always wrestled against the guilt and shame of its darkest moments, preferring to move forward without examining harsh, complex truths too closely.
An opportunity for brands:
Recent studies reveal that consumers expect brands to address societal wrongs and step forward to lead even when government cannot or will not. While we wait to see whether Juneteenth – a bittersweet day of jubilation and joy despite suffering – will be officially recognized, this milestone is an important opportunity for brands. Here are five guiding principles to keep in mind as you think about how and whether your brand should participate in the moment:
- To celebrate or not to celebrate… let purpose be your guide: Despite last year’s unprecedented reckoning with racial reconciliation, many brands and corporations are actively debating whether they should participate in Juneteenth’s celebration. Yes, you must consider the perspective of your most important stakeholders – both internal and external. But, just as important, consider your values and purpose as a brand. Think about why you exist. How does your purpose square with the idea of honoring this milestone and what does it tell you about where your responsibilities lie? As you consider recognizing Juneteenth, think about whether or not your commitments and actions as a brand give you credibility on this issue.
- Find the gaps and fill them: Consider what gaps might exist around the celebration and ways your brand could occupy that space. Given the lack of federal recognition, could you help signal the importance of the milestone by offering employees a day off this year (or set this annually via policy) to celebrate or reflect? In the future, for brands whose stakeholders are parents, you might consider efforts like digital or physical storybooks to build upon what kids might learn about Juneteenth in school.
- Amplify Black voices: Telling stories as complex and profound as that of slavery is difficult and painful. Consider ways to elevate Black voices, experiences and reflections in honor of the moment. The opportunity to offer education and awareness is profound.
- Don’t forget employees: A special message from senior leadership in honor of the occasion can go a long way toward helping Black employees feel seen and heard. But, remember that corporate acknowledgement of Juneteenth is new and many employees are still finding their equilibrium on how to appropriately navigate this moment at work. So, recognizing Juneteenth in the workplace must also mean creating opportunities for shared healing, learning and understanding.
- As you reflect on the past through brand storytelling, let’s not ignore the present: Black disenfranchisement – of course – did not end with slavery. Tell that story too and, even better, consider whether your brand can actively step forward in allyship to begin the work to help right these wrongs.
For expert advice or counsel in developing and communicating plans for Juneteenth or other Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion milestones, please email PN’s Capability Leadership Team.