- Monday, June 19 is Juneteenth, a national holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americansin Galveston, Texas, finally received the news they were free.
- We sat down with RingCentral’s Professional Services Project Manager Sydney Hick, sand Travel Services Manager Candace Madison, to learn more about the history and significance of Juneteenth celebrations.
In 2021, RingCentral was one of the first companies to officially observe Juneteenth as a paid company holiday, , partly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement which brought new attention to issues of equity and justice. Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion mandates a response to matters of social justice and we are proud to give our employees a day off to commemorate Juneteenth. We recently sat down with RingCentral’s Professional Services Project Manager Sydney Hicks and Travel Services Manager Candace Madison, to talk more about the history, significance, and traditions of Juneteenth celebrations. Based in our newly opened Dallas, Texas office, Sydney and Candace shared their perspectives on the importance and significance of the Juneteenth holiday in Texas and beyond.
Juneteenth recognized nationally.
In 2020, months of Black Lives Matter outcries protesting the murder of George Floyd brought a renewed focus on the inequities and injustices faced by minorities in the US. As a result, national leaders collectively resolved to acknowledge and honor the history of the Black community. In solidarity and support for the Black community, President Biden signed legislation in 2021 that made Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the date on which enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally received the news they were free. Union troops freed enslaved African Americans in Galveston Bay and across Texas, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is also known as “Emancipation Day,” “Freedom Day,” and “Jubilee Day.”
A new tradition.
RingCentral Professional Services Project Manager Sydney Hicks told us she first learned about Juneteenth as a teenager when she saw banners on a building in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I began to do research to understand what it is and why it is celebrated. It wasn’t taught at home or in my high school.” She later moved to Houston, Texas, where Juneteenth is a huge event. Sydney and her friends took the opportunity to drive to nearby Galveston, where Juneteenth originated, to participate in authentic celebrations. As a result of her research and experiences, Juneteenth has grown in significance to Sydney personally, and she celebrates annually with family and friends.
Rich family history.
Travel Services Manager Candace Madison has another take on Juneteenth. She is a native Texan whose father is originally from Galveston, and she is from an older generation than Sydney. For her family, Juneteenth held deep significance and was celebrated in church with gospel music and a traditional church picnic to follow. They would always sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem, along with the Lord’s Prayer and other gospel hymns. Although Juneteenth celebrations today don’t always include religious observances, Candace notes that today’s big barbecues and cookouts have their roots in the traditional church picnic.
While Sydney and Candace had different childhood exposure to Juneteenth, as adults now living in Texas, they share some of the same Juneteenth traditions. Parades are a common part of celebrations with streets blocked off and colorful banners flown. There is an emphasis on highlighting Black culture and entrepreneurship. And of course, no Juneteenth celebration would be complete without music and food, food, food. Barbecues and picnics are everywhere with an abundance of soul food: bbq chicken, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, cornbread, greens, and lots of red foods.
Why are red foods significant in Juneteenth celebrations? Culinary historian and writer Michael Twitty said in a recent article that the historical importance of red food goes back to the times of enslavement when red foods were rare. Also, “There were a lot of enslaved Africans who were coming to Texas from the continent and through the Caribbean. The color red is highly associated with the cultures that would’ve come through the later years of the trade, which would have been Yoruba and Kongo.”
If you attend a Juneteenth celebration, you can expect to see a variety of red foods including refreshments like strawberry sodas and hibiscus tea, Kool-Aid or Gatorade, plus barbecue sauces, red beans and rice, watermelon, red velvet cake, and more. For recipes and to learn more about Black food and culture, check out Bryant Terry’s book Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora.
This year RingCentral hosted the following events to honor Juneteenth:
- June 15 – Our BE@R (Black Employees @ RingCentral) ERG sponsored a soul food lunch accompanied by red deserts in our offices which were catered by local Black-owned businesses. We also watched the documentary “Juneteenth 1865-2022: The Pursuit of Economic Equality”.
- June 16 – Juneteenth special edition of our regular House Party Friday music session with DJ E-TRANE (Elliott Broadnax) – celebrating and honoring the contributions of Black musicians in our society.
Opportunity for dialogue.
Sydney is hoping RingCentral’s Juneteenth commemoration brings everyone together. She sees it as an opportunity for people who haven’t heard of it to ask questions, and to feel comfortable asking their counterparts about it. “A lot of people get nervous around certain topics within the office, but I feel like at RingCentral, we have created a really comfortable working environment where we can have those hard conversations.” Candace and Sydney each remind us that Juneteenth is not only about Black joy, it’s about bringing everyone together and realizing that this society is possible because of Juneteenth and other important events in our history.
A cultural shift.
While there is still healing to be done, Candace is proud of the progress that’s been made toward equity. “There is a mantra that we often say in my community. It is that ‘We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.’” Candace is elated to see more interest in the importance of Juneteenth and sees increasing interest as a historical shift. “I am extremely happy to work for a company that commemorates this, to work for a company that would even have discussions about this. It makes me feel very seen.”
Originally published Jun 20, 2023, updated Jun 21, 2023