Juneteenth, which is celebrated annually on June 19, commemorates the true emancipation of slaves in America. Though Juneteenth did not become a federal holiday until 2021, it has long been honored in the Black community under a variety of names, most commonly Jubilee Day, and its meaning has grown over time to encompass not only freedom, but also justice and equity in terms of opportunity and access.
In addition, Juneteenth has become a celebration of Black culture and a chance to think of Black history not only in terms of slavery, the Civil Rights movement and the ongoing struggle for equality, but also in terms of Black excellence. Too often, when Americans think of Black history, the mind turns to trauma and negativity, rather than the Harlem Renaissance, the establishment of historically Black colleges and universities and the countless other achievements and contributions of the Black community.
What is the history of Juneteenth?
June 19 is the anniversary of the date in 1865 when the last group of enslaved Black Americans were freed by Union troops, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Later in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally abolished slavery.
While Juneteenth began in Texas—where those last slaves were freed—the holiday spread as former slaves moved about the country via the Great Migration. Juneteenth is now commonly celebrated in church gatherings, food festivals and local parades.
What can you and your organization do to commemorate Juneteenth?
One of the positive outcomes of the 2021 legislation is a growing recognition that events like Juneteenth are part of our collective history, not just Black history. Issues connected to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are a natural extension of this conversation and represent an opportunity for organizations of all sizes to initiate a meaningful dialogue with their employee and customers.
Here are three steps you and your organization can take to commemorate Juneteenth.
Have an open and honest conversation. Many people did not know about Juneteenth just a few years ago. In fact, a Gallup poll from 2021 revealed that 62% of American adults knew “a little bit” or “nothing at all” about Juneteenth prior to it being named a national holiday. Broken down by race, that number included 68% of white adults, 60% of Hispanic adults and 31% of Black adults. Those numbers have improved since then, as a follow-up poll of the public’s understanding of Juneteenth showed that 59% of U.S. adults said in 2022 that they knew “a lot” or “some” about Juneteenth—compared to 38% the year before.
The point is, there are likely people within your organization or at your facility who are unfamiliar with Juneteenth, and there is no shame in admitting that. The goals of any such conversation should be to respect one another’s experiences and understanding and to grow as a result of the discussion.
Expand the conversation by recognizing and honoring everyone’s experience. When discussing events like Juneteenth, Pride Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month, there is a tendency to categorize people along those lines. Never lose sight of the fact that most people claim multiple identities related to not only their race or ethnicity, but also their sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. And, be mindful that everyone’s experience is equally valid and worth understanding and celebrating. The idea is to gather the members of your organization so that you can learn from one another and create an environment where everyone feels welcomed, valued and empowered.
Discuss the message and meaning of the day—and then act. A lot of organizations’ EDI efforts center on discussions and educational sessions, and while these are extremely important to the growth of any organization and the people within it, there must be calls to action as a result.
Make and then implement plans to enhance the diversity of not only your customer base, but also your employees and leadership. Recognize Juneteenth as an opportunity to discuss things like equity and access and then begin making changes to improve your organization, if necessary.
ACE’s Commitment to EDI
ACE is committed to help end structural racism and address equity, diversity and inclusion in the health and fitness industry. We encourage you to learn more about ACE’s EDI-related efforts.
Our EDI Statement
As the American Council on Exercise (ACE), we actively pursue and promote equity, diversity and inclusion within the health and fitness industry and our organization.
We proudly commit to bringing equity to the health and fitness landscape by working to ensure that everyone has equal access and opportunity to participate in the activities necessary to live an active, healthy life.
We celebrate the diversity of the inspiring individuals and communities we serve and have made it our mission to get ALL people moving and enjoying the benefits of an active, healthy life.
We champion inclusivity by encouraging and creating environments in which everyone—every age, race, cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, faith, socioeconomic status, education level, size, or physical or intellectual ability—feels welcome and accepted.
At ACE, we commit. We celebrate. We champion.