Juneteenth commemorates the official emancipation of slavery on June 19, 1865, when the people of Galveston, Texas, were informed that all slaves were free by executive order. Now, 155 years later, we continue to acknowledge this date as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, or Emancipation Day. For some, Juneteenth is a time to honor both the celebration of freedom and the reality that we have more work to do in pursuit of justice and freedom for Black Americans.
This year at Herman Miller, employees came together to recognize Juneteenth in several ways.
Internal LENS Event
Joined by our CEO Action Fellows, we hosted a virtual LENS event (a series of courageous conversations to bring perspective, awareness, and conversation on important topics to our business by Listening Empowering Narratives and Speaking up) that focused on Black Excellence and allyship of the Black community.
Employees and our sales and dealer networks tuned into a virtual concert led by our CEO Action Fellows in partnership with our Black Equity Team. The event featured live performances in the areas of hip-hop, rhythm and blues, African dance, spoken word, and a special jazz accompaniment. The Black Swan Academy, a nonprofit organization focused on improving life outcomes for Black Youth through civic learning and engagement, joined to educate employees about their programs and ways they can get involved. Herman Miller Cares teamed up with our dealer in D.C., Bialek Environments, in honoring the work of Black Swan Academy with both financial support and partnership opportunities.
Employees from around the business shared their personal stories on what Juneteenth means to them and how they planned to celebrate this year. Hear what a couple of them had to say below:
"I, like many in this country, didn’t grow up learning a lot about Black history in school, other than short chapters glossing over the truly dark realities of the past, but I am a devourer of historical knowledge and needed to know the truth."
Niel Peckenham,Planning and Allocations Manager for Herman Miller Retail, DWR, and HAY
We did not celebrate Juneteenth in my family when I was growing up and now that is changing. I come from a mixed background. When I say mixed, I mean polar opposite in terms of cultural exposure and diversity. My father’s family is from the mountains of western Montana and my mother’s family is from the San Francisco Bay Area, Berkeley and Oakland to be specific. Growing up, truly in two worlds, forced me to look at things from multiple angles and at times I felt separated or unwelcomed in all of them. My mother’s family was always the side I identified with more. They are composed of generations of strong Black women that never let anything stop them. There are a few men, but that side is predominantly women, and they are definitely the matriarchs.
I, like many in this country, didn’t grow up learning a lot about Black history in school, other than short chapters glossing over the truly dark realities of the past, but I am a devourer of historical knowledge and needed to know the truth. After college, I embarked on learning more about the true Black contributions to history in this country beyond what the schoolbooks taught. For me, that journey consisted of me looking into my family history and finding examples of what Black excellence means to me. Through that, I found many women in my family that fought against adversity to be who they wanted to be and the way they wanted to be. They were women who faced hardships and would band together to overcome them and make their mark, small or large. Every one of their accomplishments makes me proud to have their history as a part of mine. They were:
Mothers, teachers, a shop owner in the early 1900s, a translator working in WWII Europe, a blues singer playing smoky clubs in Paris, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and a minister of music and composer of gospel music.
Every day, I say I want to be like them when I grow up.
It was only after years of study that I came to know the history of Juneteenth. After the time of reflection this past year has brought, I now want to celebrate it more than ever. I see this as a day where we all can revel in where we came from and celebrate everything that was brought together to create who we are. I see this day as a day to celebrate in our own history as well as the histories of others and bring that excellence to the forefront.
Starting this year, we as a family are celebrating Juneteenth together, for the first time. Yes, on a giant family Zoom call from all over the world, we will all be together. Four generations of crazy women and a couple of crazy men, having a ball together. I can’t wait for this new tradition to keep going for even more generations.
"This Juneteenth and all going forward will be a day of unity and recognition of Black excellence"
Kareisha Questel, Sales Operations Manager for Herman Miller New York
October 3, 2017, Black-ish, Season 4, Episode 1 was the day I learned about Juneteenth.
If you are not already aware of the significance of Juneteenth, I would recommend watching the educational, yet entertaining namesake episode created by Kenya Barris.
As a first-generation Black American, raised by a Trinidadian mother in a Portuguese and Italian immigrant neighborhood where we were the only Black family, Black history was not a part of my Catholic school curriculum. It was not until high school that I began to learn about Black history after moving to a more diverse town.
Delayed on cultural knowledge, friends constantly teased me about taking away my "Black card" (a story for another day). So, after watching the Black-ish episode, I carried on as though I had known about Juneteenth forever, since I was slightly embarrassed and figured I missed a history lesson once upon a time.
Well, guess what? In recent discussions, I've come to find out that a few other people, like me, were not aware of the two-year hiatus to emancipate enslaved African Americans. Therefore, I am sharing my secret with you for two reasons:
1. In the wake of George Floyd and the active Black Lives Matter movement, I have learned that change comes through unity and shared experiences.
2. I hope you are bold enough to share this historical significance with others.
That being said, on Juneteenth of this year, I am proud to celebrate, in unity, at an ultimate block party serving as the Grand Opening of Newark, New Jersey's latest Black-owned business, The Black Home, an interior design boutique. Owner and award-winning designer, Neffi Walker, will exude #Blackexcellence at the block party featuring her newest venture while providing space for over 30 Black-owned businesses to gather with music and art, family fun, and food.
To me, this Juneteenth and all going forward will be a day of unity and recognition of Black excellence – more so now that it is a federal holiday!