Why We’re Making Juneteenth a Paid Holiday

Why We’re Making Juneteenth a Paid Holiday

By Guimel DeCarvalho, Director of People and Culture and Chief Diversity Officer at Wayside Youth & Family Support Network

Wayside Youth & Family Support Network has long been committed to becoming an anti-racist, social justice and advocacy organization that serves vulnerable youth and families across the state. We apply an equity lens to every facet of what we do – from increasing the diversity of our staff, to training employees and parents how to talk about race and racism, to creating an inclusive workplace by examining all of our institutional practices, including the images we hang in our buildings, for equal representation.

In the days following the killing of George Floyd by police, our CEO, Eric Masi, spoke directly to our staff about the pandemic of racism, pledging to turn emotion into action. We provided staff with anti-racism resources, invited them to participate in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, encouraged them to learn how to hold anti-racist conversations across our agency or join a newly formed group for white allies of anti-racism. We shared our DEI Action Plan and accountability measures. We formed task groups to address racism at a systemic level and sent emails outlining “One Anti-Racist Action You Can Take Today” to give staff the opportunity to do their own work.

One of our recent “One Anti-Racist Action You Can Take Today” emails challenged our 500 staff to learn about Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, and plan how to celebrate. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of the Civil War and slavery. It took two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued until the last slaves were free.

This week, the Juneteenth action was also posted on our social media channels. Staff commended us on Facebook and began calling for Wayside to recognize June 19 as an official paid holiday and give Black staff the day off. They advocated for current and former Wayside staff to do the same. The post was shared 17 times and urged anti-racist colleagues, friends, family and white allies to use their voices and act.

Their advocacy made us proud. We listened and our senior leadership team re-examined how we failed to recognize and support holidays that call out the oppression of Black people. As one of our staff pointed out on Facebook, Juneteenth should be a day for Black and Brown people to celebrate and take time for self-care. It is also a day for white people to look at their own internalized racism and privilege and consider how they can impact racial equity.

We were humbled by the fact that Black history is so unknown to white people that we did not think about the importance of the annual holiday to our Black and Brown staff. That we should have recognized that this year, more than any other time in history, celebrating freedom on Juneteenth comes with the heavy weight of grief and exhaustion from fighting for civil rights for generations.

For those reasons, all Wayside staff now have Friday off as a paid holiday. We’ve asked them to share how they are celebrating and observing Juneteenth and provided white staff with 10 actions they can take.

It’s been 13 years since Governor Deval Patrick signed a proclamation making June 19th Juneteenth Independence Day, a day of observance in Massachusetts. According to The Guardian, Juneteenth is a holiday for most of the country and that “currently 46 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance.” No president has declared it a federal holiday.

We will celebrate Juneteenth by acknowledging our bias and doing better.

Becoming an anti-racist is not just about educating ourselves. It’s about taking action to give up our privilege. Isn’t it time that we make Juneteenth a paid holiday by giving our Black, Brown and white allies a day off to celebrate freedom?


One Response

  1. […] lens of the oppressor, not the oppressed. It’s the reason why many people first learned about Juneteenth this year. It’s also the reason many people are questioning why they never learned about […]

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