Most people are familiar with the celebration and history behind Independence Day. While the United States became free with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Black people had not been freed from slavery at that time. As a result, many in the Black community feel somewhat disconnected from the Fourth of July holiday—a great day for America, but not for Black Americans.
In fact, Black people were not declared free for another 87 years. And even still, it took an additional two years beyond Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation for the last enslaved people to be freed in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth provides a day of remembrance and reflection for all Americans, and it’s extremely gratifying to see that Juneteenth is gaining the attention it deserves as a landmark day in American history—just this week, Juneteenth was established as a federal holiday with unanimous approval by the U.S. Senate.
Let’s take a closer look at the day’s origins and how the Zscaler community can contribute positively to the conversation surrounding this annual day of recognition.
The first Juneteenth: a brief history
For those unfamiliar with Juneteenth, we would like to share a bit of history, beginning with the General Order that was issued on June 19. It isn't talked about nearly enough, but it is the reason behind today's reflections:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865.
What does this all mean today? June 19, 1865, also known as Juneteenth, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth is a celebration of the journey and freedom of Black people in this country. We embrace this moment to acknowledge the many contributions that Black people have made to American culture and honor those who died for our freedom. Juneteenth is the real "Freedom Day" for African Americans. But to have true freedom, we must continue to break through the systemic barriers that have plagued African American communities for centuries around the world.
To me, Juneteenth is a day of empowerment. As the company-wide programming and committee chair of B@Z—Zscaler’s internal network of African American employees and allies—I believe that empowerment is about leveraging our platforms, exercising our voices in everyday moments, and being intentional about our actions for change.
Zscaler’s Juneteenth Town Hall Celebration
Zscaler is honoring Juneteenth by hosting a company-wide Town Hall celebration to educate, empower, and uplift employees. Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resource group, B@Z, has curated a cultural visual experience along with an intimate conversation with Marvin Whitaker and Michelle Smith on the importance of Juneteenth and the impact systemic racism has had on the Black community.
We also wanted to share some resources that we are excited about. These organizations not only support Black businesses, but also leverage technology to build momentum behind these initiatives:
- MyBlackReceipt, launched June 19, 2020, is the first “Buy Black” movement that quantifies collective purchases from Black-owned businesses. This movement encourages consumers to support Black-owned businesses and show their support by uploading receipts—starting Juneteenth, sales totals will be shown on a live counter. When you support a Black business owner, you support Black jobs, Black causes, and Black wealth building. So, find Black businesses and upload your receipts!
- WeBuyBlack is an online marketplace where customers may purchase everything they need from Black-owned businesses, helping to build social and economic justice globally. Sellers may register to sell their products to a diverse, open, and international market. The site was launched for public purchases on June 19, 2015, which marked the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.
I’m proud to be a part of B@Z and the Zscaler community as a whole. The services that Zscaler delivers are consequential, and it’s exciting to work alongside people who are empowered to do their best work and are passionate about bringing positive change to enterprise customers. As we all reflect on Juneteenth, let’s celebrate empowerment in all its forms—in our professional lives, in our personal quests, and in the memories and the progress the day represents. And let’s all commit to paying it forward, as there is still much work to be done.
Additional resources about Juneteenth