Skip to main content Skip to footer

June 14, 2023

Making Juneteenth count

On Juneteenth, I ask my colleagues to learn, to reflect and to make a difference. Carrying out the spirit of the day starts with each of us.

Hailing from Texas, where the historic June 19 announcement of slavery’s end occurred in 1865, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth annually since I was a child. Honoring it today feels like part of an inspiring, galvanizing moment. I see it as the beginning of broader meaningful change on the path toward justice and equality.

Painful reminders of systemic racism permeate society and trigger my own personal memories of racism. While we often place those searing experiences in a box so we can move on, one of the many questions I wrestle with is: Are things really changing?

With that in mind, I started to think about how I’d spend the day.

On reflection

In my hometown, there was always a Juneteenth parade. In temperatures that often reached 95 degrees, we’d stand by the side of the road and cheer the parade’s procession of cars and honking horns. Afterwards, we’d all gather at the recreation center for food and games. The joy of community I felt in those afternoons will always be with me.

This year, I’ll also reflect on the past and what I can do to help change the future because there’s a solemn aspect to Juneteenth. The day also memorializes slaves who lost their lives and never experienced freedom. I sometimes think about the lost chapters of Black history and where our country would be if we’d celebrated Black Americans’ achievements. What if we had acknowledged the soldiers who served in World Wars I and II, putting aside their own civil rights struggles to fight for the rights of others? What if history books had recognized inventor George Washington Carver and pioneering surgeon Dr. Charles Drew? If they had, would we be in a different place?

The stories of Carver and Drew are as vivid to me today as when I first encountered them during my childhood. To my parents, it was important that my brother and I view our own intrinsic value through the lens of Black history. To ensure we did, they bought us the series of children’s Black history books sold at the local drug store. I read them all. In presentations to my middle school classmates, I shared the stories I’d learned. Sadly, names like Carver and Drew were unknown to them.

What you can do

So, on Juneteenth, I ask my colleagues to learn, to reflect and to make a difference. It can be as simple as having a conversation with your team or co-workers about race and justice. Change starts with empathy. We need to hear each other’s stories, and to be aware that we don’t all start out in the same place.

Today is also a time to hold up a mirror on ourselves. How do our own biases impact the way we engage with colleagues, whether it’s extending an invitation to dinner or evaluating a colleague? If you’re looking for a place to begin, watch YouTube’s always fascinating series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. In this 12-minute episode, host Emmanuel Acho speaks with actor Matthew McConaughey about unpacking the opportunity to acknowledge and understand one another. 

Share Juneteenth with your family, too. Spend a few hours uncovering some remarkable facts about Black history. Watch an historical drama like Selma, or read Just Mercy. Tackle those hard-to-have conversations with your family about race in your community. Become an ally, because progress won’t happen until those who are unaffected become as outraged as those who are. 

The spirit of Juneteenth starts with each of us. Make it count.

Shameka Young
Global Head of D&I
Shameka Young

Shameka Young is a Cognizant VP and Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). She also represents Cognizant as a founding partner on The World Economic Forum’s initiative on racial justice.

Latest posts

Related posts

Subscribe for more and stay relevant

The Modern Business newsletter delivers monthly insights to help your business adapt, evolve, and respond—as if on intuition