Most of us were taught in history class that the Emancipation Proclamation abolished enslavement in America on January 1, 1863. The truth is a bit more complicated. Two and a half years later, and almost five months after Congress passed the 13th Amendment, white enslavement of Black Americans persisted. The last enslaved Black Americans finally gained their freedom when General Granger read General Order Number 3 aloud in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. The celebrations that followed inspired the annual tradition of celebrating Black freedom and achievement known as Juneteenth.
In the one-hundred and fifty-five years since the first Juneteenth, Black Americans have continued to fight for their lives, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness. For every advancement, there has been a shameful backslide. White Americans countered the social, political, and economic gains made by formerly enslaved Black Americans during Southern Reconstruction with Jim Crow laws violently enforced by police and the KKK. When the Civil Rights Movement abolished Jim Crow laws, white Americans continued to suppress Black freedom with redlining practices, racial profiling, respectability politics, state violence, and mass incarceration.
On May 25, 2020, twenty-three days before Juneteenth, three Minneapolis police officers murdered an unarmed Black man named George Floyd on the suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. George Floyd’s murder is yet another painful reminder of how imperfect our union still is. It is also a wake-up call. Our nation’s failure to reckon with its racist past threatens its future. How many of us were unaware of the significance of June 19, 1865 until June 19, 2020? Why did George Floyd have to die for white Americans to acknowledge the 155-year tradition of celebrating what is arguably one of the most important days in American history?
The answers to these questions must inform the work of making Equitas Health a meaningfully anti-racist workplace. The Equitas Health Racial Advisory Committee on Employee Equity (RACE) generously provided senior management and the Board of Trustees with a list of recommendations to achieve this goal. One of those recommendations was to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for all Equitas Health employees, because Black achievement and Black freedom benefit all Americans and should be celebrated by all Americans. I am happy to announce that the Equitas Health Board of Trustees has unanimously approved senior management’s recommendation to establish Juneteenth as a paid holiday in place of Presidents Day.
Our work is just beginning. For myself, senior management, and the Board of Trustees, Juneteenth is an important reminder that it is our duty to provide an anti-racist workplace for every employee at Equitas Health and not something to be fought for by our Black and brown colleagues.
President & CEO
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