This Friday marks Juneteenth, the oldest known holiday honoring the end of slavery in the United States. And this year, numerous technology-related companies as well as other firms are, for the first time, giving employees a paid day off from work to observe it.
After weeks of nationwide demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and racial injustices, companies are taking action to address their own issues with racial inequalities and to better support their black employees.
Last week, Nike, Twitter and a handful of other companies said they would observe June 19, or Juneteenth, as a paid holiday. Since then, a number of others have followed their lead.
Amazon and Google employees were encouraged to cancel meetings. “Use this day to create space for learning and reflection,” Reuters reported a Google memo as saying.
“We have instituted a no mandatory meetings day, encouraging all Googlers to use this day to create space for learning and reflection,” A spokesperson for Google tells WRAL TechWire.
“Our Black Googler Network, an employee resource group, will host a series of events, including a special conversation with musician, actress, and author Alicia Keys.”
Google’s observations include a video Doodle, designed by guest artist Loveis Wise. (See video above.) “The video is set to the first verse of the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson, read by LeVar Burton, and music by producer Elijah Jamal,” Google says.
Other offerings from Google:
Google Assistant has new responses for Juneteenth questions. “Starting today, you can ask Assistant-enabled devices, ‘Hey Google, what’s Juneteenth?'”
Google Arts & Culture and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History are debuting a new exhibit on the historical legacy of Juneteenth.
YouTube Music will launch a new programmed playlist titled, “Juneteenth: Freedom Songs,” highlighting songs of protest liberation, and celebration from Black artists including Beyonce, Bob Marley, and Prince. In addition, YouTube Music will be showcasing a collection of videos that highlight Black social movements and struggles throughout history. The programmed playlist and video content will be placed in dedicated shelves within the YouTube Music app as well as on youtube.com/music.
Other companies’ efforts
Uber and Lyft have said they will provide employees with a paid holiday on Friday. However, Uber’s holiday does not apply to the company’s fleet of drivers. Lyft did not specify whether its drivers will receive holiday pay or any other such benefit, and did not respond to a request for comment.
“We encourage team members to take the day to reflect, participate in civic engagement or leverage anti-discrimination resources to deepen understanding of the work still needed to support the black community,” Lyft said in a note to employees.
Other companies saying they will observe the holiday this year include Tumblr, the New York Times, Spotify, Workday, marketing firm Comscore and Kellogg-owned snack company RxBar. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued an executive order this week recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees. Adobe and Square are as well.
“Please take some time to reflect, learn, and support each other,” Jeff Bezos said in a note to Amazon workers. USA TODAY and Record reported that news.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced the news of the proclamation to enslaved African Americans there. That coastal area of Texas was the last to hear that the Civil War had ended two months earlier.
Friday is the 155th anniversary of that day.
“This Friday, June 19, I ask that you take the day to honor the historic pain caused by — and lives lost to — racial inequity and celebrate racial diversity,” JCPenney CEO Jill Soltau said in a message to employees. “This is an opportunity to continue to learn, connect with each other, and reflect on how we can move forward and achieve permanent and lasting change.”
JCPenney is giving corporate employees paid time off on June 19, and providing additional holiday pay for retail associates scheduled to work that day.
Fellow retail giant Target is also making Juneteenth a paid company holiday, and providing hourly workers with time and a half pay. BestBuy has offered its employees a “paid volunteer day,” which they can take on June 19 or another day this year to engage in “peaceful protests, rallies and community service.” Starting next year, BestBuy will make Juneteenth a formal, paid company holiday, it said in a release.
Companies’ acknowledgment of Juneteenth is a good first step, but it can’t be the only step, Meredith Clark, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, told CNN last week.
“It is a nice symbolic gesture,” Clark said. “I’m never going to frown at a company recognizing a day that is culturally important to so many Americans, really to all of us. But at the same time I want to see that sort of action matched with commitment to changing the culture inside these organizations.”